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Mechanisms as Modal Patterns

Rouse, Joseph (2016) Mechanisms as Modal Patterns. In: UNSPECIFIED.

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Abstract

Philosophical discussions of mechanisms and mechanistic explanation (e.g., Bechtel 2006; Bechtel and Abrahamsen 2005; Craver 2007; Craver and Darden 2014; Darden 2006) have often been framed by contrast to laws and deductive-nomological explanation. A more adequate conception of lawfulness and nomological necessity, emphasizing the role of modal considerations in scientific reasoning, circumvents such contrasts and enhances understanding of mechanisms and their scientific significance.
The first part of the paper sketches this conception of lawfulness, drawing upon Haugeland (1998), Lange (2000, 2007), and Rouse (2015). This conception emphasizes the role of lawful stability under relevant counterfactual suppositions in scientific reasoning across the sciences, in place of traditional conceptions of law that are primarily confined to the physical sciences. It also extends lawful stability beyond verbally or mathematically expressed law-statements, to encompass other ways of conjoining patterns in the world with scientific pattern recognition.
The remainder of this paper shows how and why mechanisms constructively exemplify this conception of lawfulness in scientific practice:
• Mechanisms are robust, counterfactually stable and inductively projectible patterns, even though they are not exceptionless “laws of nature”.
• Mechanistic explanations often take non-verbal forms, which consequently resist philosophical inclinations to semantic ascent, but understanding lawfulness in terms of counterfactually stable pattern recognition accounts for these ways in which scientific understanding outruns the expressive capacities of natural languages;
• Mechanisms are sometimes characterized as real (“ontic”) patterns in the world, and sometimes as epistemic representations; understanding mechanisms as modal patterns shows why both conceptions are needed, as mutually supportive.
• Mechanisms are typically open-ended, and only partially specified, in ways open to and directive toward further articulation and revision (“discovery”). Understanding mechanisms as modal patterns incorporates this aspect of mechanistic understanding within a broader conception of scientific understanding as embedded in research practice, rather than in bodies of knowledge extracted from it.
• Mechanistic explanation has often been placed on the causal side of an opposition between causal and nomological explanation, but understanding mechanisms as modal patterns helps overcome that opposition, and contributes to a pluralist conception of causal relations and their characteristic forms of counterfactual invariance.
• The recognition of mechanisms as modal patterns allows for a new way to think about the relations among distinct levels of a mechanistic hierarchy, and the broader scientific significance of mechanistic understanding.


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Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Rouse, Josephjrouse@wesleyan.edu
Keywords: mechanisms; laws; patterns; pattern-recognition; explanation
Subjects: General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Laws of Nature
Depositing User: Joseph Rouse
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2016 19:38
Last Modified: 14 Jun 2016 19:38
Item ID: 12197
Subjects: General Issues > Confirmation/Induction
General Issues > Explanation
General Issues > Laws of Nature
Date: 18 June 2016
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/12197

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