Mechanistic reasoning and the problem of masking

Synthese 199 (3-4):1-16 (2021)
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Abstract

At least historically, it was common for medical practitioners to believe causal hypotheses on the basis of standalone mechanistic reasoning. However, it is now widely acknowledged that standalone mechanistic reasoning is insufficient for appropriately believing a causal hypothesis in medicine, thanks in part to the so-called problem of masking. But standalone mechanistic reasoning is not the only type of mechanistic reasoning. When exactly then is it appropriate to believe a causal hypothesis on the basis of mechanistic reasoning? In this paper, I argue that it has proved difficult to provide a satisfying answer to this question. I also argue that this difficulty is predicted by recent work in knowledge-first epistemology. I think this shows that recent work in epistemology has important implications for practice in the philosophy of science. It is therefore worth paying closer attention in the philosophy of science to this recent work in knowledge-first epistemology.

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References found in this work

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Knowledge and its Limits.Timothy Williamson - 2000 - Oxford University Press.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - University of Chicago Press.
Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.

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