Abstract
Among philosophers of science, there is now a widespread agreement that the DN model of explanation is poorly equipped to account for explanations in biology. Rather than identifying laws, so the consensus goes, researchers explain biological capacities by constructing a model of the underlying mechanism.We think that the dichotomy between DN explanations and mechanistic explanations is misleading. In this article, we argue that there are cases in which biological capacities are explained without constructing a model of the underlying mechanism. Although these explanations do not conform to Hempel’s DN model, they do invoke more or less stable generalisations. Because they invoke generalisations and have the form of an argument, we call them inferential explanations. We support this claim by considering two examples of explanations of biological capacities: pigeon navigation and photoperiodism. Next, we will argue that these non-mechanistic explanations are crucial to biology in three ways: sometimes, they are the only thing we have, they are heuristically useful, and they provide genuine understanding and so are interesting in their own right.In the last sections we discuss the relation between types of explanations and types of experiments and situate our views within some relevant debates on explanatory power and explanatory virtues.
Keywords capacity  explanation  photoperiodism  mechanism  pigeon navigation
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2013.06.003
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References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Functional Analysis.Robert Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.
Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation.Stuart Glennan - 2002 - Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.

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Citations of this work BETA

Is Mathematics a Domain for Philosophers of Explanation?Erik Weber & Joachim Frans - 2017 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 48 (1):125-142.
Six Theses on Mechanisms and Mechanistic Science.Stuart Glennan, Phyllis Illari & Erik Weber - 2022 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 53 (2):143-161.

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