Can mechanisms really replace laws of nature?

Philosophy of Science 77 (3):317-340 (2010)
Today, mechanisms and mechanistic explanation are very popular in philosophy of science and are deemed a welcome alternative to laws of nature and deductive‐nomological explanation. Starting from Mitchell's pragmatic notion of laws, I cast doubt on their status as a genuine alternative. I argue that (1) all complex‐systems mechanisms ontologically must rely on stable regularities, while (2) the reverse need not hold. Analogously, (3) models of mechanisms must incorporate pragmatic laws, while (4) such laws themselves need not always refer to underlying mechanisms. Finally, I show that Mitchell's account is more encompassing than the mechanistic account *Received August 2008; revised January 2010. †To contact the author, please write to: Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, B‐9000 Belgium; e‐mail:
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DOI 10.1086/652959
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