Mechanisms and Laws: Clarifying the Debate

In H.-K. Chao, S.-T. Chen & R. Millstein (eds.), Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 125-145 (2013)
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Leuridan (2011) questions whether mechanisms can really replace laws at the heart of our thinking about science. In doing so, he enters a long-standing discussion about the relationship between the mech-anistic structures evident in the theories of contemporary biology and the laws of nature privileged especially in traditional empiricist traditions of the philosophy of science (see e.g. Wimsatt 1974; Bechtel and Abrahamsen 2005; Bogen 2005; Darden 2006; Glennan 1996; MDC 2000; Schaffner 1993; Tabery 2003; Weber 2005). In our view, Leuridan misconstrues this discussion. His weak positive claim that mechanistic sciences appeal to generalizations is true but uninteresting. His stronger claim, that all causal claims require laws, is unsupported by his arguments. Though we proceed by criticizing Leuridan’s arguments, our greater purpose is to embellish his arguments in order to show how thinking about mechanisms enriches and transforms old philosophical debates about laws in biology and provides new insights into how generalizations afford prediction, explanation and control.

Author Profiles

Carl F. Craver
Washington University in St. Louis
Marie I. Kaiser
Bielefeld University


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