Plausibility versus richness in mechanistic models

Philosophical Psychology 26 (1):139-152 (2013)
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In this paper we argue that in recent literature on mechanistic explanations, authors tend to conflate two distinct features that mechanistic models can have or fail to have: plausibility and richness. By plausibility, we mean the probability that a model is correct in the assertions it makes regarding the parts and operations of the mechanism, i.e., that the model is correct as a description of the actual mechanism. By richness, we mean the amount of detail the model gives about the actual mechanism. First, we argue that there is at least a conceptual reason to keep these two features distinct, since they can vary independently from each other: models can be highly plausible while providing almost no details, while they can also be highly detailed but plainly wrong. Next, focusing on Craver's continuum of ?how-possibly,? to ?how-plausibly,? to ?how-actually? models, we argue that the conflation of plausibility and richness is harmful to the discussion because it leads to the view that both are necessary for a model to have explanatory power, while in fact, richness is only so with respect to a mechanism's activities, not its entities. This point is illustrated with two examples of functional models



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Citations of this work

Mechanistic explanation in engineering science.Dingmar van Eck - 2015 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):349-375.
Inferential explanations in biology.Raoul Gervais & Erik Weber - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):356-364.

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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Explaining the brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - New York : Oxford University Press,: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.
Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: a mechanist alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.
Special sciences.Jerry A. Fodor - 1974 - Synthese 28 (2):97-115.

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