The concept of mechanism in biology

Authors
Daniel J. Nicholson
University of Exeter
Abstract
The concept of mechanism in biology has three distinct meanings. It may refer to a philosophical thesis about the nature of life and biology (‘mechanicism’), to the internal workings of a machine-like structure (‘machine mechanism’), or to the causal explanation of a particular phenomenon (‘causal mechanism’). In this paper I trace the conceptual evolution of ‘mechanism’ in the history of biology, and I examine how the three meanings of this term have come to be featured in the philosophy of biology, situating the new ‘mechanismic program’ in this context. I argue that the leading advocates of the mechanismic program (i.e., Craver, Darden, Bechtel, etc.) inadvertently conflate the different senses of ‘mechanism’. Specifically, they all inappropriately endow causal mechanisms with the ontic status of machine mechanisms, and this invariably results in problematic accounts of the role played by mechanism-talk in scientific practice. I suggest that for effective analyses of the concept of mechanism, causal mechanisms need to be distinguished from machine mechanisms, and the new mechanismic program in the philosophy of biology needs to be demarcated from the traditional concerns of mechanistic biology
Keywords Mechanism  Mechanicism  Machine  Causal Explanation  Function  Organization
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2011.05.014
Options
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 35,471
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation.Stuart Glennan - 2002 - Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.
When Mechanistic Models Explain.Carl F. Craver - 2006 - Synthese 153 (3):355-376.

View all 33 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Three Kinds of New Mechanism.Arnon Levy - 2013 - Biology and Philosophy 28 (1):99-114.
Organisms ≠ Machines.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):669-678.
Rethinking Woodger's Legacy in the Philosophy of Biology.Daniel J. Nicholson & Richard Gawne - 2014 - Journal of the History of Biology 47 (2):243-292.
Biological Atomism and Cell Theory.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):202-211.

View all 16 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Two Concepts of Mechanism: Componential Causal System and Abstract Form of Interaction.Jaakko Kuorikoski - 2009 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 23 (2):143 – 160.
Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Causal Graphs and Biological Mechanisms.Alexander Gebharter & Marie I. Kaiser - 2014 - In Marie I. Kaiser, Oliver Scholz, Daniel Plenge & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Explanation in the special sciences: The case of biology and history. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 55-86.
Three Kinds of New Mechanism.Arnon Levy - 2013 - Biology and Philosophy 28 (1):99-114.
Constitutive Explanatory Relevance.Carl Craver - 2007 - Journal of Philosophical Research 32:3-20.

Analytics

Added to PP index
2011-08-29

Total downloads
204 ( #26,355 of 2,285,807 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
7 ( #65,970 of 2,285,807 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature