Philosophy of Science 68 (1):53-74 (2001)

Carl F. Craver
Washington University in St. Louis
Many areas of science develop by discovering mechanisms and role functions. Cummins' (1975) analysis of role functions-according to which an item's role function is a capacity of that item that appears in an analytic explanation of the capacity of some containing system-captures one important sense of "function" in the biological sciences and elsewhere. Here I synthesize Cummins' account with recent work on mechanisms and causal/mechanical explanation. The synthesis produces an analysis of specifically mechanistic role functions, one that uses the characteristic active, spatial, temporal, and hierarchical organization of mechanisms to add precision and content to Cummins' original suggestion. This synthesis also shows why the discovery of role functions is a scientific achievement. Discovering a role function (i) contributes to the interlevel integration of multilevel mechanisms, and (ii) provides a unique, contextual variety of causal/mechanical explanation
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1086/392866
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 61,025
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation.Stuart Glennan - 2002 - Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.
Top-Down Causation Without Top-Down Causes.Carl F. Craver & William Bechtel - 2007 - Biology and Philosophy 22 (4):547-563.
An Organizational Account of Biological Functions.Matteo Mossio, Cristian Saborido & Alvaro Moreno - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (4):813-841.

View all 184 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total views
191 ( #52,930 of 60,987 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
6 ( #113,580 of 60,987 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes