Phenomenological Laws and Mechanistic Explanations

Philosophy of Science 91 (1):132-150 (2024)
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In light of recent criticisms by Woodward (2017) and Rescorla (2018), we examine the relationship between mechanistic explanation and phenomenological laws. We disambiguate several uses of the phrase “phenomenological law” and show how a mechanistic theory of explanation sorts them into those that are and are not explanatory. We also distinguish the problem of phenomenological laws from arguments about the explanatory power of purely phenomenal models, showing that Woodward and Rescorla conflate these problems. Finally, we argue that the temptation to pit mechanistic and interventionist theories of explanation against one another occludes important and scientifically relevant research questions.

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Carl F. Craver
Washington University in St. Louis
Gabriel Siegel
Washington University in St. Louis

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