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Causal concepts in biology: How pathways differ from mechanisms and why it matters

Ross, Lauren N. (2018) Causal concepts in biology: How pathways differ from mechanisms and why it matters. [Preprint]

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Abstract

In the last two decades few topics in philosophy of science have received as much attention as mechanistic explanation. A significant motivation for these accounts is that scientists frequently use the term “mechanism” in their explanations of biological phenomena. While scientists appeal to a variety of causal concepts in their explanations, many philosophers argue or assume that all of these concepts are well understood with the single notion of mechanism (Robins and Craver 2009; Craver 2007). This reveals a significant problem with mainstream mechanistic accounts– although philosophers use the term “mechanism” interchangeably with other causal concepts, this is not something that scientists always do. This paper analyses two causal concepts in biology–the notions of “mechanism” and “pathway”–and how they figure in biological explanation. I argue that these concepts have unique features, that they are associated with distinct strategies of causal investigation, and that they figure in importantly different types of explanation.


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Item Type: Preprint
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Ross, Lauren N.rossl@uci.edu
Keywords: causation, explanation, mechanism, mechanistic explanation, philosophy of biology, philosophy of neuroscience, philosophy of medicine,
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Ecology/Conservation
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Medicine
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
Depositing User: Dr. Lauren N. Ross
Date Deposited: 06 Mar 2018 17:27
Last Modified: 12 Mar 2018 14:00
Item ID: 14432
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Ecology/Conservation
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > Causation
General Issues > Explanation
Specific Sciences > Medicine
Specific Sciences > Neuroscience
Date: 5 March 2018
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/14432

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