Journal for General Philosophy of Science

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 517–534 | Cite as

Extended Mechanistic Explanations: Expanding the Current Mechanistic Conception to Include More Complex Biological Systems



Mechanistic accounts of explanation have recently found popularity within philosophy of science. Presently, we introduce the idea of an extended mechanistic explanation, which makes explicit room for the role of environment in explanation. After delineating Craver and Bechtel’s (2007) account, we argue this suggestion is not sufficiently robust when we take seriously the mechanistic environment and modeling practices involved in studying contemporary complex biological systems. Our goal is to extend the already profitable mechanistic picture by pointing out the importance of the mechanistic environment. It is our belief that extended mechanistic explanations, or mechanisms that take into consideration the temporal sequencing of the interplay between the mechanism and the environment, allow for mechanistic explanations regarding a broader group of scientific phenomena.


Mechanism Explanation Complex systems Mechanistic environment 



We would like to thank a great many people who have been instrumental in crafting this paper. First, we would like to thank Roberta Millstein for her ability to reread a paper countless times without complaint. We thank our many reviewers who were both diligent and helpful, a combination not praised enough. Thanks to James Griesemer and the Griesemer–Millstein Philosophy of Biology Lab for continual discussion, support, and helpful tips. Our thanks to Elliot Sober and the 2014 participants of POBAM who went out of their way to help hone our arguments. Finally, we give our appreciation to countless other conference and workshop attendees that have helped our project progress, including those at the Canadian Philosophical Association, the American Philosophical Association, and the Institute for Bioinformatics and Evolutionary Studies at the University of Idaho.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophySouthern Connecticut State UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA

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