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The Mechanical Turn in Philosophy

Successful explanations in science often take the form of mechanisms: the mechanism of photosynthesis in plants, the mechanism of blood circulation in animals, the mechanism of plate tectonics across Earth. The discoveries of such mechanisms often amount to great scientific achievements, awarded with Nobel Prizes, included in textbooks, and published in premier journals.

Philosophers, for several decades now, have grown increasingly interested in the concept of a mechanism as an organizational framework for understanding how science works: how explanations succeed or fail, how discoveries are made, how scientists carve up the world, how the insights of different disciplines relate to one another. Philosophy in the twentieth century was dominated by the idea that the fundamental building blocks of science were laws of nature, theories, and axiomatic proofs. The philosophy of mechanisms instead locates the fundamental building blocks of science in the causal structure of the world, in the mechanisms that are responsible for the phenomena that are being studied. 

Professor Tabery has contributed to this literature for twenty years. An accessible introduction to the philosophical material can be found in the "Mechanisms in Science" entry published by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. More technical pieces about how different philosophers think about causation, about how this philosophy of mechanisms relates to older work that responds to David Hume, and about how mechanism-elucidation science relates to other scientific practices that investigate variation are also available.

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