Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics (History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences)

Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics (History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences)

Roberta L. Millstein

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 9400724535

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This volume addresses fundamental issues in the philosophy of science in the context of two most intriguing fields: biology and economics. Written by authorities and experts in the philosophy of biology and economics, Mechanism and Causality in Biology and Economics provides a structured study of the concepts of mechanism and causality in these disciplines and draws careful juxtapositions between philosophical apparatus and scientific practice. By exploring the issues that are most salient to the contemporary philosophies of biology and economics and by presenting comparative analyses, the book serves as a platform not only for gaining mutual understanding between scientists and philosophers of the life sciences and those of the social sciences, but also for sharing interdisciplinary research that combines both philosophical concepts in both fields.

The book begins by defining the concepts of mechanism and causality in biology and economics, respectively. The second and third parts investigate philosophical perspectives of various causal and mechanistic issues in scientific practice in the two fields. These two sections include chapters on causal issues in the theory of evolution; experiments and scientific discovery; representation of causal relations and mechanism by models in economics. The concluding section presents interdisciplinary studies of various topics concerning extrapolation of life sciences and social sciences, including chapters on the philosophical investigation of conjoining biological and economic analyses with, respectively, demography, medicine and sociology.

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Natural selection as a mechanism. Philosophy of Science 75: 306–322.CrossRef Bechtel, William. 2006. Discovering cell mechanisms: The creation of modern cell biology, Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology. New York: Cambridge University Press. Bechtel, William and Adele Abrahamsen. 2005. Explanation: A mechanist alternative. In ed. Carl F. Craver and Lindley Darden, Special Issue: “Mechanisms in Biology.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36: 421–441.

represented by) any one of the equations in the system by means of an intervention on (the magnitude corresponding to) the dependent variable in that equation, without disrupting any of the other equations. (Woodward 2003, p. 48) And while he recognizes that representations of causal relationships may not always display modularity, he assumesthat when causal relationships are correctly and fully represented by systems of equations, each equation will correspond to a distinct causal mechanism and

the law of segregation (or Mendel’s first law) and the law of independent assortment (or Mendel’s second law). The fist law states that the two copies of a gene segregate (or separate) from each other during transmission from parent to offspring (Brooker 2009, p. 23). The second law states that two different genes will randomly assort their alleles during the formation of haploid cells (Brooker 2009, p. 27). However, almost every textbook provides different formulations for the two laws.6

that the idea of a strict law distorts crucial features of biology shows that there are no general facts about biology or that generalizations play no important role in biological research practice. And no mechanist has ever made such claims. Though we proceed by criticizing Leuridan’s arguments, we have a larger purpose, namely, to illustrate how thinking about mechanisms enriches and transforms the philosophical debate about the role of laws in biology. In our view, the debate over whether or

and to. (I give other examples of populations acting as a whole below.) So again, the problem is not that the population as a whole does not interact with other entities as a whole in order to change its genotype and phenotype frequencies. Rather, one of the reasons that Skipper and I were unable to construe natural selection as a mechanism in Glennan’s sense is that, on his account, the interactions among the parts of a mechanism are supposed to explain the behavior of the whole. In other

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