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Publication Date

Summer 8-2017

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The New Mechanical Philosophy argues for a new image of nature and of science--one that understands both natural and social phenomena to be the product of mechanisms, and that casts the work of science as an effort to discover and understand those mechanisms. Drawing on an expanding literature on mechanisms in physical, life, and social sciences, Stuart Glennan offers an account of the nature of mechanisms and of the models used to represent them. A key quality of mechanisms is that they are particulars - located at different places and times, with no one just like another. The crux of the scientist's challenge is to balance the complexity and particularity of mechanisms with our need for representations of them that are abstract and general.

This volume weaves together metaphysical and methodological questions about mechanisms. Metaphysically, it explores the implications of the mechanistic framework for our understanding of classical philosophical questions about the nature of objects, properties, processes, events, causal relations, natural kinds and laws of nature. Methodologically, the book explores how scientists build models to represent and understand phenomena and the mechanisms responsible for them. Using this account of representation, Glennan offers a scheme for characterizing the enormous diversity of things that scientists call mechanisms, and explores the scope and limits of mechanistic explanation.


This is a draft of a chapter that has been accepted for publication by Oxford University Press in the forthcoming book The New Mechanical Philosophy by Stuart Glennan due for publication in 2017.