When mechanisms are not enough: The origin of eukaryotes and scientific explanation

In Alexander Christian, David Hommen, Gerhard Schurz & N. Retzlaff (eds.), Philosophy of Science. European Studies in Philosophy of Science, vol 9. Dordrecht, Netherlands: pp. 95-115 (2018)
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Abstract

The appeal to mechanisms in scientific explanation is commonplace in contemporary philosophy of science. In short, mechanists argue that an explanation of a phenomenon consists of citing the mechanism that brings the phenomenon about. In this paper, we present an argument that challenges the universality of mechanistic explanation: in explanations of the contemporary features of the eukaryotic cell, biologists appeal to its symbiogenetic origin and therefore the notion of symbiogenesis plays the main explanatory role. We defend the notion that symbiogenesis is non-mechanistic in nature and that any attempt to explain some of the contemporary features of the eukaryotic cell mechanistically turns out to be at least insufficient and sometimes fails to address the question that is asked. Finally, we suggest that symbiogenesis is better understood as a pragmatic scientific law and present an alternative non-mechanistic model of scientific explanation. In the model we present, the use of scientific laws is supposed to be a minimal requirement of all scientific explanations, since the purpose of a scientific explanation is to make phenomena expectable. Therefore, this model would help to understand biologists’ appeal to the notion of symbiosis and thus is shown to be better, for the case under examination, than the mechanistic alternative.

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Author Profiles

Roger Deulofeu
Universitat de Barcelona (PhD)
Javier Suárez
Universidad de Oviedo

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