Professor Sutton's thought-provoking book is directed principally to the question: His answer, baldly stated, is that if they are made right they are helpful, but if they are made wrong they are misleading.
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)
We argue that neuroeconomics should be a mechanistic science. We defend this view as preferable both to a revolutionary perspective, according to which classical economics is eliminated in favour of neuroeconomics, and to a classical economic perspective, according to which economics is insulated from facts about psychology and neuroscience. We argue that, like other mechanistic sciences, neuroeconomics will earn its keep to the extent that it either reconfigures how economists think about decision-making or how neuroscientists think about brain mechanisms underlying (...) behaviour. We discuss some ways that the search for mechanisms can bring about such top-down and bottom-up revision, and we consider some examples from the recent neuroeconomics literature of how varieties of progress of this sort might be achieved. (shrink)
Carl Craver’s recent book offers an account of the explanatory and theoretical structure of neuroscience. It depicts it as centered around the idea of achieving mechanistic understanding, i.e., obtaining knowledge of how a set of underlying components interacts to produce a given function of the brain. Its core account of mechanistic explanation and relevance is causal-manipulationist in spirit, and offers substantial insight into casual explanation in brain science and the associated notion of levels of explanation. However, the focus on (...) mechanistic explanation leaves some open questions regarding the role of computation and cognition. (shrink)
Carl Craver and Lindley Darden are two of the foremost proponents of a recent approach to the philosophy of biology that is often called the New Mechanism. In this book they seek to make available to a broader readership insights gained from more than two decades of work on the nature of mechanisms and how they are described and discovered. The book is not primarily aimed at specialists working on the New Mechanism, but rather targets scientists, students and teachers (...) who are looking for a broad, philosophically and historically informed image of discovery in the life sciences. (shrink)
This article traces the semantics of ?life? and ?vitality? in Carl Schmitt up to the 1930s. It shows that Schmitt deploys these vitalist elements against the modern ?spirit of technicity? in his attempt to combat the lack of substantial ideas in modern politics. However, Schmitt himself cannot escape a fundamental political relativism. There remains an unstable tension at the heart of his thought between the quest for substance and the quest for order. The latter is relativist because it is (...) a quest for order as such, any order. Although Schmitt's semantics of life and vitality is not drawn from a biological register, it adopted a völkisch meaning in 1933. Anti-Semitism becomes a form of life and racial homogeneity fills in for substance. The article concludes that, while there are good reasons for criticizing the modern ?spirit of technicity,? Schmitt's critical model is fundamentally flawed. (shrink)