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

Authors
Carl F. Craver
Washington University in St. Louis
Abstract
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
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DOI 10.1086/392866
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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.

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