WHY CONSTITUTIVE MECHANISTIC EXPLANATION CANNOT BE CAUSAL: HIGHLIGHTING NEEDED THEORETICAL PROJECTS AND THEIR CONSTRAINTS
American Philosophical Quarterly
In his “New Consensus” on explanation, Wesley Salmon (1989) famously argued that there are two kinds of scientific explanation: global, derivational, and unifying explanations, and then local, ontic explanations backed by causal relations. Following Salmon’s New Consensus, the dominant view in philosophy of science is what I term “neo-Causalism” which assumes that all ontic explanations of singular fact/event are causal explanations backed by causal relations, and that scientists only search for causal patterns or relations and only offer causal explanations of singular facts/events. I argue that there are foundational, and fatal, flaws in the neo-Causal picture. The relations backing constitutive mechanistic explanations of activities of wholes using activities of parts, as well as other species of compositional explanation, cannot be causal relations. Treating them as causal or causation-like is therefore plausibly a category mistake. Compositional explanations in the sciences represent instead a sui generis kind of ontic explanation of singular fact/event backed by sui generis compositional relations. We thus need a pluralistic revision of Salmon’s New Consensus on explanation to reflect these findings.
Gillett, Carl, "WHY CONSTITUTIVE MECHANISTIC EXPLANATION CANNOT BE CAUSAL: HIGHLIGHTING NEEDED THEORETICAL PROJECTS AND THEIR CONSTRAINTS" (2020). NIU Bibliography. 150.
Department of Philosophy