The concept of mechanism in biology

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
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2011.05.014
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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 34 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.
Biological Atomism and Cell Theory.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):202-211.
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.
Development and Mechanistic Explanation.Fabrizzio Guerrero Mc Manus - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (2):532-541.

View all 14 citations / Add more citations

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