Carl F. Craver and Lindley Darden. In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences. [Book Review]

Justin Garson
Hunter College (CUNY)
Carl F. Craver and Lindley Darden’s new book, In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences, is a fantastic and lucid introduction to the “new mechanism” tradition in the philosophy of science. Over the last 2 decades, but particularly since the turn of the century, this has become an influential framework for thinking about core problems in the history and philosophy of science, with a strong emphasis on biology. There are at least four major aims. First, the new mechanism tradition purports to resolve conventional problems in the philosophy of science, such as the nature of explanation, theory evaluation, reduction, the unity of science, and the levels of the scientific hierarchy. Second, it constitutes what Karl Popper called a Logik der Forschung: a set of maxims and precepts to propel the process of scientific discovery itself. This emphasis on the process of discovery distinguishes the tradition from much of twentieth-century philosophy of science, with its emphasis on the logic of justification. Third, the new mechanism tradition, at least in Craver and Darden’s view, recommends a certain historiographical framework for organizing the history of biology, a framework that depicts the history of biology primarily as a search for mechanisms. Fourth, it constitutes a fundamental metaphysics—a picture of what the physical world is like, in which entities possess various properties, which allow them to have various powers and which are organized in such a way as to give rise to observable phenomena. As the authors provocatively conclude, “nothing in biology makes any sense without the idea that biologists are searching for mechanisms” (202). I do not know whether the authors are correct in their assessment, but this book certainly demonstrates the scope of their ambitions.
Keywords mechanisms  biology  life sciences  Craver  Darden
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DOI 10.1086/678187
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