University of Hertfordshire

Mechanisms are Real and Local

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)

  • Phyllis McKay Illari
  • Jon Williamson
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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCausality in the Sciences
EditorsPhyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo, Jon Williamson
PublisherOUP
Pages818-44
ISBN (Print)0199574138, 978-0199574131
Publication statusPublished - 2011

Abstract

Mechanisms have become much-discussed, yet there is still no consensus on how to characterise them. In this paper, we start with something everyone is agreed on – that mechanisms explain – and investigate what constraints this imposes on our metaphysics of mechanisms. We examine two widely shared premises about how to understand mechanistic explanation: (1) that mechanistic explanation offers a welcome alternative to traditional laws-based explanation and (2) that there are two senses of mechanistic explanation that we call ‘epistemic explanation’ and ‘physical explanation’. We argue that mechanistic explanation requires that mechanisms are both real and local. We then go on to argue that real, local mechanisms require a broadly active metaphysics for mechanisms, such as a capacities metaphysics.

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