On closing the gap between philosophical concepts and their usage in scientific practice: a lesson from the debate about natural selection as a mechanism

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 55:21-28 (2016)
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Abstract

In addition to theorizing about the role and value of mechanisms in scientific explanation or the causal structure of the world, there is a fundamental task of getting straight what a ‘mechanism’ is in the first place. Broadly, this paper is about the challenge of application: the challenge of aligning one's philosophical account of a scientific concept with the manner in which that concept is actually used in scientific practice. This paper considers a case study of the challenge of application as it pertains to the concept of a mechanism: the debate about whether natural selection is a mechanism. By making clear what is and is not at stake in this debate, this paper considers various strategies for dealing with the challenge of application and makes a case for definitional pluralism about mechanism concepts.

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Lucas J. Matthews
Columbia University

Citations of this work

Natural selection.Robert Brandon - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
A prototypical conceptualization of mechanisms.Bryon Cunningham - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 85:79-91.

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References found in this work

Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Causation.David Lewis - 1973 - Journal of Philosophy 70 (17):556-567.
What is a mechanism? Thinking about mechanisms across the sciences.Phyllis Illari & Jon Williamson - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (1):119-135.
Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation.Stuart Glennan - 2002 - Philosophy of Science 69 (S3):S342-S353.

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