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Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation, Stuart Glennan Jan 2002

Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation, Stuart Glennan

Scholarship and Professional Work - LAS

Philosophers of science typically associate the causal-mechanical view of scientific explanation with the work of Railton and Salmon. In this paper I shall argue that the defects of this view arise from an inadequate analysis of the concept of mechanism. I contrast Salmon's account of mechanisms in terms of the causal nexus with my own account of mechanisms, in which mechanisms are viewed as complex systems. After describing these two concepts of mechanism, I show how the complex-systems approach avoids certain objections to Salmon's account of causal-mechanical explanation. I conclude by discussing how mechanistic explanations can provide understanding ...