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Biological Explanation

In Kostas Kampourakis (ed.), The Philosophy of Biology: A Companion for Educators. Springer. pp. 49-65 (2013)

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  1. Mechanisms and the Nature of Causation.StuartS Glennan - 1996 - Erkenntnis 44 (1):49--71.
    In this paper I offer an analysis of causation based upon a theory of mechanisms-complex systems whose internal parts interact to produce a system's external behavior. I argue that all but the fundamental laws of physics can be explained by reference to mechanisms. Mechanisms provide an epistemologically unproblematic way to explain the necessity which is often taken to distinguish laws from other generalizations. This account of necessity leads to a theory of causation according to which events are causally related when (...)
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  • Forty Years of 'the Strategy': Levins on Model Building and Idealization. [REVIEW]Michael Weisberg - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (5):623-645.
    This paper is an interpretation and defense of Richard Levins’ “The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology,” which has been extremely influential among biologists since its publication 40 years ago. In this article, Levins confronted some of the deepest philosophical issues surrounding modeling and theory construction. By way of interpretation, I discuss each of Levins’ major philosophical themes: the problem of complexity, the brute-force approach, the existence and consequence of tradeoffs, and robustness analysis. I argue that Levins’ article is (...)
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  • Explanatory Independence and Epistemic Interdependence: A Case Study of the Optimality Approach.Angela Potochnik - 2010 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 61 (1):213-233.
    The value of optimality modeling has long been a source of contention amongst population biologists. Here I present a view of the optimality approach as at once playing a crucial explanatory role and yet also depending on external sources of confirmation. Optimality models are not alone in facing this tension between their explanatory value and their dependence on other approaches; I suspect that the scenario is quite common in science. This investigation of the optimality approach thus serves as a case (...)
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  • Explanation and Understanding.Angela Potochnik - 2011 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 1 (1):29-38.
    Michael Strevens offers an account of causal explanation according to which explanatory practice is shaped by counterbalanced commitments to representing causal influence and abstracting away from overly specific details. In this paper, I challenge a key feature of that account. I argue that what Strevens calls explanatory frameworks figure prominently in explanatory practice because they actually improve explanations. This suggestion is simple but has far-reaching implications. It affects the status of explanations that cite multiply realizable properties; changes the explanatory role (...)
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  • Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
    Explanations in the life sciences frequently involve presenting a model of the mechanism taken to be responsible for a given phenomenon. Such explanations depart in numerous ways from nomological explanations commonly presented in philosophy of science. This paper focuses on three sorts of differences. First, scientists who develop mechanistic explanations are not limited to linguistic representations and logical inference; they frequently employ dia- grams to characterize mechanisms and simulations to reason about them. Thus, the epistemic resources for presenting mechanistic explanations (...)
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  • Levels of Explanation Reconceived.Angela Potochnik - 2010 - Philosophy of Science 77 (1):59-72.
    A common argument against explanatory reductionism is that higher‐level explanations are sometimes or always preferable because they are more general than reductive explanations. Here I challenge two basic assumptions that are needed for that argument to succeed. It cannot be assumed that higher‐level explanations are more general than their lower‐level alternatives or that higher‐level explanations are general in the right way to be explanatory. I suggest a novel form of pluralism regarding levels of explanation, according to which explanations at different (...)
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  • Studies in the Logic of Explanation.Carl Hempel & Paul Oppenheim - 1948 - Philosophy of Science 15 (2):135-175.
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  • Causality and Explanation.Wesley C. Salmon - 1997 - Oxford University Press.
    Wesley Salmon is renowned for his seminal contributions to the philosophy of science. He has powerfully and permanently shaped discussion of such issues as lawlike and probabilistic explanation and the interrelation of explanatory notions to causal notions. This unique volume brings together twenty-six of his essays on subjects related to causality and explanation, written over the period 1971-1995. Six of the essays have never been published before and many others have only appeared in obscure venues. The volume includes a section (...)
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  • Laws and Explanation in History.WILLIAM DRAY - 1957 - Ethics 68 (4):297-299.
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  • The Multiple Realizability Argument Against Reductionism.Elliott Sober - 1999 - Philosophy of Science 66 (4):542-564.
    Reductionism is often understood to include two theses: (1) every singular occurrence that the special sciences can explain also can be explained by physics; (2) every law in a higher-level science can be explained by physics. These claims are widely supposed to have been refuted by the multiple realizability argument, formulated by Putnam (1967, 1975) and Fodor (1968, 1975). The present paper criticizes the argument and identifies a reductionistic thesis that follows from one of the argument's premises.
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  • Thinking About Evolutionary Mechanisms: Natural Selection.Robert Skipper & Roberta Millstein - 2004 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):327-347.
    This paper explores whether natural selection, a putative evolutionary mechanism, and a main one at that, can be characterized on either of the two dominant conceptions of mechanism, due to Glennan and the team of Machamer, Darden, and Craver, that constitute the “new mechanistic philosophy.” The results of the analysis are that neither of the dominant conceptions of mechanism adequately captures natural selection. Nevertheless, the new mechanistic philosophy possesses the resources for an understanding of natural selection under the rubric.
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  • Laws and Explanations in History.W. H. Dray - 1957 - Philosophy 34 (129):170-172.
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  • Four Decades of Scientific Explanation.Wesley C. Salmon & Anne Fagot-Largeault - 1989 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 16 (2):355.
    As Aristotle stated, scientific explanation is based on deductive argument--yet, Wesley C. Salmon points out, not all deductive arguments are qualified explanations. The validity of the explanation must itself be examined. _Four Decades of Scientific Explanation_ provides a comprehensive account of the developments in scientific explanation that transpired in the last four decades of the twentieth century. It continues to stand as the most comprehensive treatment of the writings on the subject during these years. Building on the historic 1948 essay (...)
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  • Explanatory Unification.Philip Kitcher - 1981 - Philosophy of Science 48 (4):507-531.
    The official model of explanation proposed by the logical empiricists, the covering law model, is subject to familiar objections. The goal of the present paper is to explore an unofficial view of explanation which logical empiricists have sometimes suggested, the view of explanation as unification. I try to show that this view can be developed so as to provide insight into major episodes in the history of science, and that it can overcome some of the most serious difficulties besetting the (...)
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  • Aspects of Scientific Explanation.Carl G. Hempel - 1965 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 37 (4):747-749.
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  • Explanation and Scientific Understanding.Michael Friedman - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.
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  • Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
    The concept of mechanism is analyzed in terms of entities and activities, organized such that they are productive of regular changes. Examples show how mechanisms work in neurobiology and molecular biology. Thinking in terms of mechanisms provides a new framework for addressing many traditional philosophical issues: causality, laws, explanation, reduction, and scientific change.
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  • Explanatory Pluralism in Evolutionary Biology.Kim Sterelny - 1996 - Biology and Philosophy 11 (2):193-214.
    The ontological dependence of one domain on another is compatible with the explanatory autonomy of the less basic domain. That autonomy results from the fact that the relationship between two domains can be very complex. In this paper I distinguish two different types of complexity, two ways the relationship between domains can fail to be transparent, both of which are relevant to evolutionary biology. Sometimes high level explanations preserve a certain type of causal or counterfactual information which would be lost (...)
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  • 1953 and All That. A Tale of Two Sciences.Philip Kitcher - 1984 - Philosophical Review 93 (3):335-373.
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  • Natural Selection as a Mechanism.D. Benjamin Barros - 2008 - Philosophy of Science 75 (3):306-322.
    Skipper and Millstein (2005) argued that existing conceptions of mechanisms failed to "get at" natural selection, but left open the possibility that a refined conception of mechanisms could resolve the problems that they identified. I respond to Skipper and Millstein, and argue that while many of their points have merit, their objections can be overcome and that natural selection can be characterized as a mechanism. In making this argument, I discuss the role of regularity in mechanisms, and develop an account (...)
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  • Are There Laws in Biology?Michael E. Ruse - 1970 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 48 (2):234 – 246.
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  • Confirmation and Explaining How Possible.Patrick Forber - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (1):32-40.
    Confirmation in evolutionary biology depends on what biologists take to be the genuine rivals. Investigating what constrains the scope of biological possibility provides part of the story: explaining how possible helps determine what counts as a genuine rival and thus informs confirmation. To clarify the criteria for genuine rivalry I distinguish between global and local constraints on biological possibility, and offer an account of how-possibly explanation. To sharpen the connection between confirmation and explaining how possible I discuss the view that (...)
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  • Confirmation and Explaining How Possible.Patrick Forber - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (1):32-40.
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  • The Strategy of Model-Based Science.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2006 - Biology and Philosophy 21 (5):725-740.
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  • Studies in the Logic of Explanation.Carl G. Hempel & Paul Oppenheim - 1948 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 14 (2):133-133.
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  • Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the Mosaic Unity of Neuroscience.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.
    Carl Craver investigates what we are doing when we sue neuroscience to explain what's going on in the brain.
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  • Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Harvard University Press.
    Approaches to explanation -- Causal and explanatory relevance -- The kairetic account of /D making -- The kairetic account of explanation -- Extending the kairetic account -- Event explanation and causal claims -- Regularity explanation -- Abstraction in regularity explanation -- Approaches to probabilistic explanation -- Kairetic explanation of frequencies -- Kairetic explanation of single outcomes -- Looking outward -- Looking inward.
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  • Making Things Happen. A Theory of Causal Explanation.James Woodward - 2007 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 74 (1):233-249.
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  • Preliminary Evolutionary Explanations: A Basic Framework for Conceptual Change and Explanatory Coherence in Evolution.Kostas Kampourakis & Vasso Zogza - 2009 - Science & Education 18 (10):1313-1340.
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  • Discovering Cell Mechanisms: The Creation of Modern Cell Biology.William Bechtel - 2007 - Journal of the History of Biology 40 (1):185-187.
    Between 1940 and 1970 pioneers in the new field of cell biology discovered the operative parts of cells and their contributions to cell life. They offered mechanistic accounts that explained cellular phenomena by identifying the relevant parts of cells, the biochemical operations they performed, and the way in which these parts and operations were organised to accomplish important functions. Cell biology was a revolutionary science but in this book it also provides fuel for yet another revolution, one that focuses on (...)
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  • Ernst Mayr's 'Ultimate/Proximate' Distinction Reconsidered and Reconstructed.André Ariew - 2003 - Biology and Philosophy 18 (4):553-565.
    It's been 41 years since the publication of Ernst Mayr's Cause and Effect in Biology wherein Mayr most clearly develops his version of the influential distinction between ultimate and proximate causes in biology. In critically assessing Mayr's essay I uncover false statements and red-herrings about biological explanation. Nevertheless, I argue to uphold an analogue of the ultimate/proximate distinction as it refers to two different kinds of explanations, one dynamical the other statistical.
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  • Explanatory Unification and the Causal Structure of the World.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.
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  • The Causal and Unification Approaches to Explanation Unified—Causally.Michael Strevens - 2004 - Noûs 38 (1):154–176.
    The two major modern accounts of explanation are the causal and unification accounts. My aim in this paper is to provide a kind of unification of the causal and the unification accounts, by using the central technical apparatus of the unification account to solve a central problem faced by the causal account, namely, the problem of determining which parts of a causal network are explanatorily relevant to the occurrence of an explanandum. The end product of my investigation is a causal (...)
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  • Does Biology Have Laws? The Experimental Evidence.Robert N. Brandon - 1997 - Philosophy of Science 64 (4):457.
    In this paper I argue that we can best make sense of the practice of experimental evolutionary biology if we see it as investigating contingent, rather than lawlike, regularities. This understanding is contrasted with the experimental practice of certain areas of physics. However, this presents a problem for those who accept the Logical Positivist conception of law and its essential role in scientific explanation. I address this problem by arguing that the contingent regularities of evolutionary biology have a limited range (...)
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  • Why the Anti-Reductionist Consensus Won't Survive: The Case of Classical Mendelian Genetics.C. Kenneth Waters - 1990 - PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1990:125-139.
    Philosophers now treat the relationship between classical genetics and molecular biology as a paradigm of nonreduction and this example is playing an increasingly prominent role in debates about the reducibility of theories in other sciences. This paper shows that the anti-reductionist consensus about genetics will not withstand serious scrutiny. In addition to defusing the main anti-reductionist objections, this critical analysis uncovers tell-tale signs of a significant reduction in progress. It also identifies philosophical issues relevant to gaining a better understanding of (...)
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  • Explaining with Equilibria68.Jaakko Kuorikoski - 2007 - In Johannes Persson & Petri Ylikoski (eds.), Rethinking Explanation. Springer. pp. 149--162.
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