The Nonmechanistic Option: Defending Dynamical Explanation

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:0-0 (2018)
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This paper demonstrates that nonmechanistic, dynamical explanations are a viable approach to explanation in the special sciences. The claim that dynamical models can be explanatory without reference to mechanisms has previously been met with three lines of criticism from mechanists: the causal relevance concern, the genuine laws concern, and the charge of predictivism. I argue, however, that these mechanist criticisms fail to defeat nonmechanistic, dynamical explanation. Using the examples of Haken et al.’s ([1985]) HKB model of bimanual coordination, and Thelen et al.’s ([2001]) dynamical field model of infant perseverative reaching, I show how each mechanist criticism fails once the standards of Woodward’s ([2003]) interventionist framework are applied to dynamical models. An even-handed application of Woodwardian interventionism reveals that dynamical models are capable of producing genuine explanations without appealing to underlying mechanistic details.



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Russell Meyer
University of Chinese Academy of Sciences

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