Mechanisms are said to consist of two kinds of components, entities and activities. In the first half of this chapter, I examine what entities and activities are, how they relate to well-known ontological categories, such as processes or dispositions, and how entities and activities relate to each other (e.g., can one be reduced to the other or are they mutually dependent?). The second part of this chapter analyzes different criteria for individuating the components of mechanisms and discusses how (...) real the boundaries of mechanisms are. (shrink)
In this chapter we examine the relation between mechanisms and laws/counterfactuals by revisiting the main notions of mechanism found in the literature. We distinguish between two different conceptions of ‘mechanism’: mechanisms-of underlie or constitute a causal process; mechanisms-for are complex systems that function so as to produce a certain behavior. According to some mechanists, a mechanism fulfills both of these roles simultaneously. The main argument of the chapter is that there is an asymmetrical dependence between both kinds (...) of mechanisms and laws/counterfactuals: while some laws and counterfactuals must be taken as primitive (non-mechanistic) facts of the world, all mechanisms depend on laws/counterfactuals. (shrink)
This chapter examines the relationship between laws and mechanisms as approaches to characterising generalizations and explanations in science. I give an overview of recent historical discussions where laws failed to satisfy stringent logical criteria, opening the way for mechanisms to be investigated as a way to explain regularities in nature. This followed by a critical discussion of contemporary debates about the role of laws versus mechanisms in describing versus explaining regularities. I conclude by offering new arguments for (...) two roles for laws that mechanisms cannot subsume, one epistemically optimistic and one pessimistic, both broadly Humean. Do note that this piece is not primarily Hume exegesis; it is more of a riff in the key of Hume. (shrink)
The Routledge Handbook of Mechanisms and Mechanical Philosophy is an outstanding reference source to the key topics, problems, and debates in this exciting subject and is the first collection of its kind. Comprising over thirty chapters by a team of international contributors, the Handbook is divided into four Parts: -/- Historical perspectives on mechanisms The nature of mechanismsMechanisms and the philosophy of science Disciplinary perspectives on mechanisms. -/- Within these Parts central topics and problems (...) are examined, including the rise of mechanical philosophy in the seventeenth century; what mechanisms are made of and how they are organized; mechanisms and laws and regularities; how mechanisms are discovered and explained; dynamical systems theory; and disciplinary perspectives from physics, chemistry, biology, biomedicine, ecology, neuroscience, and the social sciences. -/- Essential reading for students and researchers in philosophy of science, the Handbook will also be of interest to those in related fields, such as metaphysics, philosophy of psychology, and history of science. (shrink)
Explaining the complex dynamics exhibited in many biological mechanisms requires extending the recent philosophical treatment of mechanisms that emphasizes sequences of operations. To understand how nonsequentially organized mechanisms will behave, scientists often advance what we call dynamic mechanistic explanations. These begin with a decomposition of the mechanism into component parts and operations, using a variety of laboratory-based strategies. Crucially, the mechanism is then recomposed by means of computational models in which variables or terms in differential equations correspond (...) to properties of its parts and operations. We provide two illustrations drawn from research on circadian rhythms. Once biologists identified some of the components of the molecular mechanism thought to be responsible for circadian rhythms, computational models were used to determine whether the proposed mechanisms could generate sustained oscillations. Modeling has become even more important as researchers have recognized that the oscillations generated in individual neurons are synchronized within networks; we describe models being employed to assess how different possible network architectures could produce the observed synchronized activity. (shrink)
In this article I tackle the question of how the hierarchical order of mechanisms can be represented within a causal graph framework. I illustrate an answer to this question proposed by Casini, Illari, Russo, and Williamson and provide an example that their formalism does not support two important features of nested mechanisms: (i) a mechanism’s submechanisms are typically causally interacting with other parts of said mechanism, and (ii) intervening in some of a mechanism’s parts should have some influence (...) on the phenomena the mechanism brings about. Finally, I sketch an alternative approach taking (i) and (ii) into account. (shrink)
Even though the evidence‐based medicine movement (EBM) labels mechanisms a low quality form of evidence, consideration of the mechanisms on which medicine relies, and the distinct roles that mechanisms might play in clinical practice, offers a number of insights into EBM itself. In this paper, I examine the connections between EBM and mechanisms from several angles. I diagnose what went wrong in two examples where mechanistic reasoning failed to generate accurate predictions for how a dysfunctional mechanism (...) would respond to intervention. I then use these examples to explain why we should expect this kind of mechanistic reasoning to fail in systematic ways, by situating these failures in terms of evolved complexity of the causal system(s) in question. I argue that there is still a different role in which mechanisms continue to figure as evidence in EBM: namely, in guiding the application of population‐level recommendations to individual patients. Thus, even though the evidence‐based movement rejects one role in which mechanistic reasoning serves as evidence, there are other evidentiary roles for mechanistic reasoning. This renders plausible the claims of some critics of evidencebased medicine who point to the ineliminable role of clinical experience. Clearly specifying the ways in which mechanisms and mechanistic reasoning can be involved in clinical practice frames the discussion about EBM and clinical experience in more fruitful terms. (shrink)
In this field guide, I distinguish five separate senses with which the term ‘mechanism’ is used in contemporary philosophy of science. Many of these senses have overlapping areas of application but involve distinct philosophical claims and characterize the target mechanisms in relevantly different ways. This field guide will clarify the key features of each sense and introduce some main debates, distinguishing those that transpire within a given sense from those that are best understood as concerning distinct senses. The ‘new (...)mechanisms’ sense is at the center of most of these contemporary debates and will be treated at greater length; subsequent senses of mechanism will be primarily distinguished from this one. In part I of this paper, I distinguish two senses of the term ‘mechanism’, both of which are explicitly hierarchical and nested in character, such that any given mechanism is comprised of smaller sub-mechanisms, in turn comprised of yet smaller sub-sub-mechanisms and so on. While both of the senses discussed here are anti-reductive, they differ in their focus on scientific practice versus metaphysics, in the degree of regularity they attribute to mechanisms, and in terms of their relationships to the discussions of mechanisms in the history of philosophy and science. (shrink)
This paper will examine the nature of mechanisms and the distinction between the relevant and irrelevant parts involved in a mechanism’s operation. I first consider Craver’s account of this distinction in his book on the nature of mechanisms, and explain some problems. I then offer a novel account of the distinction that appeals to some resources from Mackie’s theory of causation. I end by explaining how this account enables us to better understand what mechanisms are and their (...) various features. (shrink)
In this field guide, I distinguish five separate senses with which the term ‘mechanism’ is used in contemporary philosophy of science. Many of these senses have overlapping areas of application but involve distinct philosophical claims and characterize the target mechanisms in relevantly different ways. This field guide will clarify the key features of each sense and introduce some main debates, distinguishing those that transpire within a given sense from those that are best understood as concerning two distinct senses. The (...) ‘new mechanisms’ sense is the primary sense from which other senses will be distinguished. In part II of this field guide, I consider three further senses of the term that are ontologically ‘flat’ or at least not explicitly hierarchical in character: equations in structural equation models of causation, causal-physical processes, and information-theoretic constraints on states available to systems. After characterizing each sense, I clarify its ontological commitments, its methodological implications, how it figures in explanations, its implications for reduction, and the key manners in which it differs from other senses of mechanism. I conclude that there is no substantive core meaning shared by all senses, and that debates in contemporary philosophy of science can benefit from clarification regarding precisely which sense of mechanism is at stake. (shrink)
Recent work on the mechanisms underlying auditory verbal hallucination (AVH) has been heavily informed by self-monitoring accounts that postulate defects in an internal monitoring mechanism as the basis of AVH. A more neglected alternative is an account focusing on defects in auditory processing, namely a spontaneous activation account of auditory activity underlying AVH. Science is often aided by putting theories in competition. Accordingly, a discussion that systematically contrasts the two models of AVH can generate sharper questions that will lead (...) to new avenues of investigation. In this paper, we provide such a theoretical discussion of the two models, drawing strong contrasts between them. We identify a set of challenges for the self-monitoring account and argue that the spontaneous activation account has much in favor of it and should be the default account. Our theoretical overview leads to new questions and issues regarding the explanation of AVH as a subjective phenomenon and its neural basis. Accordingly, we suggest a set of experimental strategies to dissect the underlying mechanisms of AVH in light of the two competing models. (shrink)
Mechanistic philosophy of science views a large part of scientific activity as engaged in modelling mechanisms. While science textbooks tend to offer qualitative models of mechanisms, there is increasing demand for models from which one can draw quantitative predictions and explanations. Casini et al. (Theoria 26(1):5–33, 2011) put forward the Recursive Bayesian Networks (RBN) formalism as well suited to this end. The RBN formalism is an extension of the standard Bayesian net formalism, an extension that allows for modelling (...) the hierarchical nature of mechanisms. Like the standard Bayesian net formalism, it models causal relationships using directed acyclic graphs. Given this appeal to acyclicity, causal cycles pose a prima facie problem for the RBN approach. This paper argues that the problem is a significant one given the ubiquity of causal cycles in mechanisms, but that the problem can be solved by combining two sorts of solution strategy in a judicious way. (shrink)
An immunizing strategy is an argument brought forward in support of a belief system, though independent from that belief system, which makes it more or less invulnerable to rational argumentation and/or empirical evidence. By contrast, an epistemic defense mechanism is defined as a structural feature of a belief system which has the same effect of deflecting arguments and evidence. We discuss the remarkable recurrence of certain patterns of immunizing strategies and defense mechanisms in pseudoscience and other belief systems. Five (...) different types will be distinguished and analyzed, with examples drawn from widely different domains. The difference between immunizing strategies and defense mechanisms is analyzed, and their epistemological status is discussed. Our classification sheds new light on the various ways in which belief systems may achieve invulnerability against empirical evidence and rational criticism, and we propose our analysis as part of an explanation of these belief systems’ enduring appeal and tenacity. (shrink)
Mechanisms play an important role in many sciences when it comes to questions concerning explanation, prediction, and control. Answering such questions in a quantitative way requires a formal represention of mechanisms. Gebharter (2014) suggests to represent mechanisms by means of one or more causal arrows of an acyclic causal net. In this paper we show how this approach can be extended in such a way that it can also be fruitfully applied to mechanisms featuring causal feedback.
The experimental interventions that provide evidence of causal relations are notably similar to those that provide evidence of constitutive relevance relations. In the first two sections, I show that this similarity creates a tension: there is an inconsistent triad between Woodward’s popular interventionist theory of causation, Craver’s mutual manipulability account of constitutive relevance in mechanisms, and a variety of arguments for the incoherence of inter-level causation. I argue for an interpretation of the views in which the tension is merely (...) apparent. I propose to explain inter-level relations without inter-level causation by appealing to the notion of fat-handed interventions, and an argument against inter-level causation which dissolves the problem. (shrink)
Casini, Illari, Russo, and Williamson (2011) suggest to model mechanisms by means of recursive Bayesian networks (RBNs) and Clarke, Leuridan, and Williamson (2014) extend their modelling approach to mechanisms featuring causal feedback. One of the main selling points of the RBN approach should be that it provides answers to questions concerning manipulation and control. In this paper I demonstrate that the method to compute the effects of interventions the authors mentioned endorse leads to absurd results under the additional (...) assumption of faithfulness, which can be expected to hold for many RBN models of mechanisms. (shrink)
This article focuses on the assessment of mechanistic relations with specific attention to medicine, where mechanistic models are widely employed. I first survey recent contributions in the philosophical literature on mechanistic causation, and then take issue with Federica Russo and Jon Williamson’s thesis that two types of evidence, probabilistic and mechanistic, are at stake in the health sciences. I argue instead that a distinction should be drawn between previously acquired knowledge of mechanisms and yet-to-be-discovered knowledge of mechanisms and (...) that both probabilistic evidence and manipulation are essential with respect to newly discovered mechanisms. (shrink)
According to the new mechanistic approach, an acting entity is at a lower mechanistic level than another acting entity if and only if the former is a component in the mechanism for the latter. Craver and Bechtel :547–563, 2007. doi:10.1007/s10539-006-9028-8) argue that a consequence of this view is that there cannot be causal interactions between acting entities at different mechanistic levels. Their main reason seems to be what I will call the Metaphysical Argument: things at different levels of a mechanism (...) are related as part and whole; wholes and their parts cannot be related as cause and effect; hence, interlevel causation in mechanisms is impossible. I will analyze this argument in more detail and show under which conditions it is valid. This analysis will reveal that interlevel causation in mechanisms is indeed possible, if we take seriously the idea that the relata of the mechanistic level relation are acting entities and accept a slightly modified notion of a mechanistic level that is highly plausible in the light of the first clarification. (shrink)
In (Gebharter 2014) I suggested a framework for modeling the hierarchical organization of mechanisms. In this short addendum I want to highlight some connections of my approach to the statistics and machine learning literature and some of its limitations not mentioned in the paper.
One of the key challenges for firms is to manage sustainability along the supply chain. To extend sustainability to suppliers, organizations have developed different governance mechanisms. The aim of this paper is to analyze the effectiveness of two different mechanisms (i.e., supplier assessment and collaboration with suppliers) to improve one dimension of sustainability: environmental performance. Structural Equation Modeling and cluster analysis were used to analyze the relationships between supplier assessment, collaboration with suppliers, and environmental performance. The results suggest (...) that (1) both mechanisms, supplier assessment and collaboration with suppliers, have a positive and synergistic effect on environmental performance, and (2) assessment acts as an enabler of collaboration. Finally, the paper also contributes to the literature by providing a framework of sustainability governance mechanisms. (shrink)
According to the sensorimotor account, vision does not imply theconstruction of internally generated representations of the environment, butit isthe skillful exercise of the sensorimotor contingencies obeying sense-specific laws. In this short study, I focus on the notion of “sensorimotor law” and characterize the kind of explanation providedby the sensorimotor theory as a form of covering law model. I then question the nature of such sensorimotor laws and describe them as mechanisms. I show that a mechanistic interpretation provides a better (...) account of the sensorimotor invariances, which fosters us to rebalance the explanatory burden of sensorimotor action and information. Finally, I show that the question of the roleof representations within the sensorimotor theory should be reconsidered. (shrink)
According to Russo and Williamson :157–170, 2007, Hist Philos Life Sci 33:389–396, 2011a, Philos Sci 1:47–69, 2011b), in order to establish a causal claim of the form, ‘C is a cause of E’, one typically needs evidence that there is an underlying mechanism between C and E as well as evidence that C makes a difference to E. This thesis has been used to argue that hierarchies of evidence, as championed by evidence-based movements, tend to give primacy to evidence of (...) difference making over evidence of mechanisms and are flawed because the two sorts of evidence are required and they should be treated on a par. An alternative approach gives primacy to evidence of mechanism over evidence of difference making. In this paper, we argue that this alternative approach is equally flawed, again because both sorts of evidence need to be treated on a par. As an illustration of this parity, we explain how scientists working in the ‘EnviroGenomarkers’ project constantly make use of the two evidential components in a dynamic and intertwined way. We argue that such an interplay is needed not only for causal assessment but also for policy purposes. (shrink)
This paper is an attempt to further our understanding of mechanisms conceived of as ontologically separable from laws. What opportunities are there for a mechanistic perspective to be independent of, or even more fundamental than, a law perspective? Advocates of the mechanistic view often play with the possibility of internal and external reliability, or with the paralleling possibilities of enforcing, counteracting, redirecting, etc., the mechanisms’ power to produce To further this discussion I adopt a trope ontology. It is (...) independent of the notion of law, and can easily be adapted to account for such characteristics of mechanisms. The idea of tropes as mechanisms is worked out in some detail. According to the resulting picture, there is still an opportunity to link mechanisms and laws. But while the predominant law view conceives of mechanistic approaches as special kinds of law accounts, this study indicates that the converse may be true. Law accounts are special cases of mechanistic accounts, and they work only in those worlds where the mechanisms are of the right kind. (shrink)
I examine to what extent accounts of mechanisms based on formal interventionist theories of causality can adequately represent biological mechanisms with complex dynamics. Using a differential equation model for a circadian clock mechanism as an example, I first show that there exists an iterative solution that can be interpreted as a structural causal model. Thus, in principle it is possible to integrate causal difference-making information with dynamical information. However, the differential equation model itself lacks the right modularity properties (...) for a full integration. A formal mechanistic model will therefore either have to leave out non-causal or causal explanatory relations. (shrink)
Ernst Mayr proposed a distinction between “proximate”, mechanistic, and “ultimate”, evolutionary, causes of biological phenomena. This dichotomy has influenced the thinking of many biologists, but it is increasingly perceived as impeding modern studies of evolutionary processes, including study of “niche construction” in which organisms alter their environments in ways supportive of their evolutionary success. Some still find value for this dichotomy in its separation of answers to “how?” versus “why?”questions about evolution. But “why is A?” questions about evolution necessarily take (...) the form “how does A occur?”, so this separation is illusory. Moreover, the dichotomy distorts our view of evolutionary causality, in that, contra Mayr, the action of natural selection, driven by genotype-phenotype-environment interactions which constitute adaptations, is no less “proximate” than the biological mechanisms which are altered by naturally selected genetic variants. Mayr’s dichotomy thus needs replacement by more realistic, mechanistic views of evolution. From a mechanistic viewpoint, there is a continuum of adaptations from those evolving as responses to unchanging environmental pressures to those evolving as the capacity for niche construction, and intermediate stages of this can be identified. Some biologists postulate an association of “phenotypic plasticity” (phenotype-environment covariation with genotype held constant) with capacity for niche construction. Both “plasticity” and niche construction comprise wide ranges of adaptive mechanisms, often fully heritable and resulting from case-specific evolution. Association of “plasticity” with niche construction is most likely to arise in systems wherein capacity for complex learning and behavioral flexibility have already evolved. (shrink)
The authors use the theoretical notion of anomie to examine the impact of top management’s control mechanisms on the environment of the marketing function. Based on a literature review and in-depth field interviews with marketing managers in diverse industries, a conceptual model is proposed that incorporates the two managerial control mechanisms, viz. output and process control, and relates their distinctive influence to anomie in the marketing function. Three contingency variables, i.e., resource scarcity, power, and ethics codification, are proposed (...) to moderate the relationship between control mechanisms and anomie. The authors also argue for the link between anomic environments and the propensity of unethical marketing practices to occur. Theoretical and managerial implications of the proposed conceptual model are discussed. (shrink)
This work uses microgenetic study of classroom learning to illuminate (1) the role of pre-instructional student knowledge in the construction of normative scientific knowledge, and (2) the learning mechanisms that drive change. Three enactments of an instructional sequence designed to lead to a scientific understanding of thermal equilibration are used as data sources. Only data from a scaffolded student inquiry preceding introduction of a normative model were used. Hence, the study involves nearly autonomous student learning. In two classes, students (...) developed stable and socially shared explanations (“causal schemes”) for understanding thermal equilibration. One case resulted in a near-normative understanding, while the other resulted in a non-normative “alternative conception.” The near-normative case seems to be a particularly clear example wherein the constructed causal scheme is a composition of previously documented naïve conceptions. Detailed prior description of these naive elements allows a much better than usual view of the corresponding details of change during construction of the new scheme. A list of candidate mechanisms that can account for observed change is presented. The non-normative construction seems also to be a composition, albeit of a different structural form, using a different (although similar) set of naïve elements. This article provides one of very few high-resolution process analyses showing the productive use of naïve knowledge in learning. (shrink)
Managers with different cultural backgrounds and under different circumstances have different views on what is acceptable ethical behaviour. This study attempts to determine whether major companies in Hong Kong share the same views as North American academics on what management ethical standards ought to be, and if so, whether any control mechanisms have been established to instill ethical behaviour within their organizations. Notable differences between the practice in these companies and those from a similar survey conducted in North America (...) are identified and explained. The management accountant''s role in the development and implementation of such mechanisms is investigated. (shrink)
In this article, two issues regarding mechanisms are discussed. The first concerns the relationships between “mechanism description” and “mechanism explanation.” It is proposed that it is rather plausible to think of them as two distinct epistemic acts. The second deals with the different molecular biology explanatory contexts, and it is shown that some of them require physics and its laws.
Oulis pointed out that there is a great deal of interest in specific mechanisms relating to mental disorders and that these mechanisms should play a role in classification. Although specific mechanisms are important, more attention should be given to general theories. The following example from Salmon illustrates the difference.
An essential prerequisite for the development of a theory of consciousness is the clarification of the fundamental mechanisms underlying conscious processes. In this article I present an approach that sheds new light on these mechanisms. This approach builds on stochastic electrodynamics (SED), a promising theoretical framework that provides a deeper understanding of quantum systems and reveals the origin of quantum phenomena. I outline the most important concepts and findings of SED and interpret the neurophysiological body of evidence in (...) the context of these findings, indicating that the functioning of the brain rests upon exactly the same principles that are characteristic for quantum systems. On this basis, I construct a new hypothesis on the mechanisms behind conscious processes and discuss the new perspectives this hypothesis opens up for consciousness research. In particular, it offers the possibility of elucidating the relationship between brain and consciousness, of specifying the connection between consciousness and information, and of answering the question of what distinguishes conscious processes from unconscious processes. (shrink)
Milner and Goodale's Two Visual Systems Hypothesis is regarded as common ground in recent discussions of visual consciousness. A central part of TVSH is a functional model of vision and action. In this paper, I provide a brief overview of these current discussions and argue that there is ambiguity between a strong and a weak version of PAM. I argue that, given a standard way of individuating computational mechanisms, the available evidence cannot be used to distinguish between these versions. (...) This not only has consequences for philosophical theories of the role of visual consciousness but also for the role of experimental evidence in model testing in cognitive neuroscience. (shrink)
What are mechanisms in social science? Content Type Journal Article Category Book Review Pages 1-4 DOI 10.1007/s11016-011-9610-9 Authors Bert Leuridan, Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, Room 2.03, 9000 Ghent, Belgium Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) is a cancer of the hematopoietic system initiated by a single genetic mutation which results in the oncogenic fusion protein Bcr-Abl. Untreated, patients pass through different phases of the disease beginning with the rather asymptomatic chronic phase and ultimately culminating into blast crisis, an acute leukemia resembling phase with a very high mortality. Although many processes underlying the chronic phase are well understood, the exact mechanisms of disease progression to blast crisis are not yet revealed. (...) In this paper we develop a mathematical model of CML based on causal Bayesian networks in order to study possible disease progression mechanisms. Our results indicate that an increase of Bcr-Abl levels alone is not sufficient to explain the phenotype of blast crisis and that secondary changes such as additional mutations are necessary to explain disease progression and the poor therapy response of patients in blast crisis. (shrink)
Lack of clarity about underlying philosophical commitments leads to lack of clarity at other levels of analysis. Here I show that the literature on so-called “causal mechanisms” is rife with conceptual problems, stemming from insufficient rigor with respect to the metaphysics of causation.
This article considers the prospects of inference to the best explanation as a method of confirming causal claims vis-à-vis the medical evidence of mechanisms. I show that IBE is actually descriptive of how scientists reason when choosing among hypotheses, that it is amenable to the balance/weight distinction, a pivotal pair of concepts in the philosophy of evidence, and that it can do justice to interesting features of the interplay between mechanistic and population level assessments.
Carl F. Craver and Lindley Darden’s new book, In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences, is a fantastic and lucid introduction to the “new mechanism” tradition in the philosophy of science. Over the last 2 decades, but particularly since the turn of the century, this has become an influential framework for thinking about core problems in the history and philosophy of science, with a strong emphasis on biology. There are at least four major aims. First, the new (...) mechanism tradition purports to resolve conventional problems in the philosophy of science, such as the nature of explanation, theory evaluation, reduction, the unity of science, and the levels of the scientific hierarchy. Second, it constitutes what Karl Popper called a Logik der Forschung: a set of maxims and precepts to propel the process of scientific discovery itself. This emphasis on the process of discovery distinguishes the tradition from much of twentieth-century philosophy of science, with its emphasis on the logic of justification. Third, the new mechanism tradition, at least in Craver and Darden’s view, recommends a certain historiographical framework for organizing the history of biology, a framework that depicts the history of biology primarily as a search for mechanisms. Fourth, it constitutes a fundamental metaphysics—a picture of what the physical world is like, in which entities possess various properties, which allow them to have various powers and which are organized in such a way as to give rise to observable phenomena. As the authors provocatively conclude, “nothing in biology makes any sense without the idea that biologists are searching for mechanisms” (202). I do not know whether the authors are correct in their assessment, but this book certainly demonstrates the scope of their ambitions. (shrink)
This paper discusses the prospect of the "new social history" guided by the recent work of Charles Tilly on the methodology of social and historical explanation. Tilly advocates explanation by mechanisms as the alternative to the covering law explanation. Tilly's proposals are considered to be the attempt to reshape the practices of social and historical explanation following the example set by the explanatory practices of molecular biology, neurobiology, and other recent "success stories" in the life sciences. Recent work in (...) the philosophy of science on these practices by Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden, Carl Craver and others is used as the foil to disclose the difficulties of Tilly's project. Most important among them is the dilemma of specification: if diagrams (standard forms of the representation of mechanisms) are intended as representations of robust causal processes, they cannot be specific enough to provide complete mechanism schemata, and are bound to remain mechanism sketches. If mechanism sketches are elaborated in detail by tracing particular causal processes, they provide representations of fragile causal processes, which cannot be considered as mechanisms comparable to those in advanced life and other special sciences. Tilly's work on the explanation of mechanisms can be considered as symptomatic for the recent trend to visualize the forms of historical representation. As far as diagrams seem to be able to communicate stories in a direct way (without narrative discourse), this trend is a challenge for the theory of historical representation. The new theories of scientific explanation focusing on the explanatory practices of the life sciences can provide examples and be the source of inspiration for the work on the theory of historical and social explanation, going beyond the confines of the received framework of the covering law model of explanation. (shrink)
Lack of clarity about underlying philosophical commitments leads to lack of clarity at other levels of analysis. Here I show that the literature on so-called “causal mechanisms” is rife with conceptual problems, stemming from insufficient rigor with respect to the metaphysics of causation.
Knowledge of mechanisms is critical for causal reasoning. We contrasted two possible organizations of causal knowledge—an interconnected causal network, where events are causally connected without any boundaries delineating discrete mechanisms; or a set of disparate mechanisms—causal islands—such that events in different mechanisms are not thought to be related even when they belong to the same causal chain. To distinguish these possibilities, we tested whether people make transitive judgments about causal chains by inferring, given A causes B (...) and B causes C, that A causes C. Specifically, causal chains schematized as one chunk or mechanism in semantic memory led to transitive causal judgments. On the other hand, chains schematized as multiple chunks led to intransitive judgments despite strong intermediate links. Normative accounts of causal intransitivity could not explain these intransitive judgments. (shrink)
Philosophers of social science have emphasized mechanistic approaches to causal inquiry for some time now, showing why focusing on the mechanisms behind correlations is preferable to focusing on correlations alone (cf. Johnson 2006, Little 1991, Reiss 2007, 2009, Steel 2004, see also King, Keohane, and Verba 1994 for an example of purely correlational research). In Process Tracing: from Metaphor to Analytic Tool, political scientists Andrew Bennett and Jeffrey Checkel present a concrete method for finding evidence of causal mechanisms, (...) process tracing. Process tracers give evidence for causal relations in terms of the observable implications of the underlying causal mechanisms through which a putative cause affects some effect of interest. Such observable implications often take the form of a chain of events, or process, which connects cause and effect. Though Process Tracing contains applications of mechanistic reasoning unfamiliar to philosophers, and as such will be of interest to those working in the mechanist tradition, Bennett and Checkel’s own discussion of the philosophical foundations of process tracing is limited. The reader will have to delve deep into the volume’s contributed chapters for links between the literature on causation and this new method. (shrink)
The conceptual and investigative tools for the analysis of social behavior can be expanded by integrating biological theory, control systems theory, and Pavlovian conditioning. Biological theory has focused on the costs and benefits of social behavior from ecological and evolutionary perspectives. In contrast, control systems theory is concerned with how machines achieve a particular goal or purpose. The accurate operation of a system often requires feed-forward mechanisms that adjust system performance in anticipation of future inputs. Pavlovian conditioning is ideally (...) suited to subserve this function in behavioral systems. Pavlovian mechanisms have been demonstrated in various aspects of sexual behavior, maternal lactation, and infant suckling. Pavlovian conditioning of agonistic behavior has been also reported, and Pavlovian processes may likewise be involved in social play and social grooming. Several further lines of evidence indicate that Pavlovian conditioning can increase the efficiency and effectiveness of social interactions, thereby improving their cost/benefit ratio. We extend Pavlovian concepts beyond the traditional domain of discrete secretory and other physiological reflexes to complex real-world behavioral interactions and apply abstract laboratory analyses of the mechanisms of associative learning to the daily challenges animals face as they interact with one another in their natural environments. Key Words: aggression; biological theory; control theory; feed-forward mechanisms; learning theory; nursing and lactation; Pavlovian conditioning; sexual behavior; social behavior; social grooming; social play. (shrink)
In this Article, I examine the Visiting Mechanisms under the Convention against Torture (CAT) and the Optional Protocol thereto (OPCAT), applying an analytic approach resting on Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. I argue that international Visiting Mechanisms essentially constitute disciplinary apparatuses as depicted by Foucault. However, because they fail to recognise this functional similarity, they do not effectively apply the methods of inducing panoptic power. Most notably the concept of ‘hierarchical observation’ is hardly utilised at all. The two introduced (...) legal entities, the Committee against Torture under CAT, and the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture under OPCAT, both engage in visits to states with a view to eradicate torture and ill-treatment throughout the world. Critically examining their systemic design and practises reveals that the preventative ante hoc mandate of the Subcommittee is more effective than the post hoc inquiries of the Committee. Nevertheless, because both entities unfortunately fail to fully utilise panoptic power, the article concludes by offering a set of recommendations for both bodies that could arguably enhance their overall effectiveness. (shrink)
This thesis examines philosophical controversies surrounding the evaluation of medical treatments, with a focus on the evidential roles of randomised trials and mechanisms in Evidence-Based Medicine. Current 'best practice' usually involves excluding non-randomised trial evidence from systematic reviews in cases where randomised trials are available for inclusion in the reviews. The first paper challenges this practice and evaluates whether adding of evidence from non-randomised trials might improve the quality and precision of some systematic reviews. The second paper compares the (...) alleged methodological benefits of randomised trials over observational studies for investigating treatment benefits. It suggests that claims about the superiority of well-conducted randomised controlled trials over well-conducted observational studies are justified, especially when results from the two methods are contradictory. The third paper argues that postulating the unpredictability paradox in systematic reviews when no detectable empirical differences can be found requires further justification. The fourth paper examines the problem of absence causation in the context of explaining causal mechanisms and argues that a recent solution is incomplete and requires further justification. Solving the problem by describing absences as causes of 'mechanism failure' fails to take into account the effects of absences that lead to vacillating levels of mechanism functionality . The fifth paper criticises literature that has emphasised functioning versus 'broken' or 'non-functioning' mechanisms emphasising that many diseases result from increased or decreased mechanism function, rather than complete loss of function. Mechanistic explanations must account for differences in the effectiveness of performed functions, yet current philosophical mechanistic explanations do not achieve this. The last paper argues that the standard of evidence embodied in the ICE theory of technological function is too permissive for evaluating whether the proposed functions of medical technologies have been adequately assessed and correctly ascribed. It argues that high-quality evidence from clinical studies is necessary to justify functional ascriptions to health care technologies. (shrink)
The concept of mechanism is analyzed in terms of entities and activities, organized such that they are productive of regular changes. Examples show how mechanisms work in neurobiology and molecular biology. Thinking in terms of mechanisms provides a new framework for addressing many traditional philosophical issues: causality, laws, explanation, reduction, and scientific change.
Mechanistic explanation has an impressive track record of advancing our understanding of complex, hierarchically organized physical systems, particularly biological and neural systems. But not every complex system can be understood mechanistically. Psychological capacities are often understood by providing cognitive models of the systems that underlie them. I argue that these models, while superficially similar to mechanistic models, in fact have a substantially more complex relation to the real underlying system. They are typically constructed using a range of techniques for abstracting (...) the functional properties of the system, which may not coincide with its mechanistic organization. I describe these techniques and show that despite being non-mechanistic, these cognitive models can satisfy the normative constraints on good explanations. (shrink)
This monograph looks at causal nets from a philosophical point of view. The author shows that one can build a general philosophical theory of causation on the basis of the causal nets framework that can be fruitfully used to shed new light on philosophical issues. Coverage includes both a theoretical as well as application-oriented approach to the subject. The author first counters David Hume’s challenge about whether causation is something ontologically real. The idea behind this is that good metaphysical concepts (...) should behave analogously to good theoretical concepts in scientific theories. In the process, the author offers support for the theory of causal nets as indeed being a correct theory of causation. Next, the book offers an application-oriented approach to the subject. The author shows that causal nets can investigate philosophical issues related to causation. He does this by means of two exemplary applications. The first consists of an evaluation of Jim Woodward’s interventionist theory of causation. The second offers a contribution to the new mechanist debate. Introductory chapters outline all the formal basics required. This helps make the book useful for those who are not familiar with causal nets, but interested in causation or in tools for the investigation of philosophical issues related to causation. (shrink)
How is it possible to think new thoughts? What is creativity and can science explain it? And just how did Coleridge dream up the creatures of The Ancient Mariner? When The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms was first published, Margaret A. Boden's bold and provocative exploration of creativity broke new ground. Boden uses examples such as jazz improvisation, chess, story writing, physics, and the music of Mozart, together with computing models from the field of artificial intelligence to uncover the (...) nature of human creativity in the arts. The second edition of The Creative Mind has been updated to include recent developments in artificial intelligence, with a new preface, introduction and conclusion by the author. It is an essential work for anyone interested in the creativity of the human mind. (shrink)