Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 645–664

Difference mechanisms: explaining variation with mechanisms


DOI: 10.1007/s10539-009-9161-2

Cite this article as:
Tabery, J. Biol Philos (2009) 24: 645. doi:10.1007/s10539-009-9161-2


Philosophers of science have developed an account of causal-mechanical explanation that captures regularity, but this account neglects variation. In this article I amend the philosophy of mechanisms to capture variation. The task is to explicate the relationship between regular causal mechanisms responsible for individual development and causes of variation responsible for variation in populations. As it turns out, disputes over this relationship have rested at the heart of the nature–nurture debate. Thus, an explication of the relationship between regular causal mechanisms and causes of variation and between individual development and variation offers both the necessary amendment to the philosophy of mechanisms and the resources to mediate the dispute.


CausationExplanationDevelopmental biologyDifference makersEpidemiologyGenotype-environment interactionLevels of analysisMechanismRegularityVariation

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA