Design principles and mechanistic explanation

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 44 (55) (2022)
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Abstract

In this essay I propose that what design principles in systems biology and systems neuroscience do is to present abstract characterizations of mechanisms, and thereby facilitate mechanistic explanation. To show this, one design principle in systems neuroscience, i.e., the multilayer perceptron, is examined. However, Braillard (2010) contends that design principles provide a sort of non-mechanistic explanation due to two related reasons: they are very general and describe non-causal dependence relationships. In response to this, I argue that, on the one hand, all mechanisms are more or less general (or abstract), and on the other, many (if not all) design principles are causal systems.

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Wesley Fang
Shanxi University

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