The Functional Sense of Mechanism

Philosophy of Science 80 (3):317-333 (2013)
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This article presents a distinct sense of ‘mechanism’, which I call the functional sense of mechanism. According to this sense, mechanisms serve functions, and this fact places substantive restrictions on the kinds of system activities ‘for which’ there can be a mechanism. On this view, there are no mechanisms for pathology; pathologies result from disrupting mechanisms for functions. Second, on this sense, natural selection is probably not a mechanism for evolution because it does not serve a function. After distinguishing this sense fromsimilar explications of ‘mechanism’, I argue that it is ubiquitous in biology and has valuable epistemic benefits.

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Justin Garson
Hunter College (CUNY)


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