Discovering Patterns: On the Norms of Mechanistic Inquiry

Erkenntnis 3:1-26 (forthcoming)
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What kinds of norms constrain mechanistic discovery and explanation? In the mechanistic literature, the norms for good explanations are directly derived from answers to the metaphysical question of what explanations are. Prominent mechanistic accounts thus emphasize either ontic or epistemic norms. Still, mechanistic philosophers on both sides agree that there is no sharp distinction between the processes of discovery and explanation. Thus, it seems reasonable to expect that ontic and epistemic accounts of explanation will be accompanied by ontic and epistemic accounts of discovery, respectively. As we will show here, however, recent discovery accounts implicitly rely on both ontic and epistemic norms to characterize the discovery process. In this paper, we develop an account that makes explicit that, and how, ontic and epistemic norms work together throughout the discovery process. By describing mechanism discovery as a process of pattern recognition we demonstrate that scientists have to develop epistemic activities to distinguish a pattern from its background. Furthermore, they have to determine which epistemic activities successfully describe how the pattern is implemented by identifying the pattern’s components. Our approach reveals that ontic and epistemic norms are equally important in mechanism discovery.
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Archival date: 2020-10-22
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