European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 119–135 | Cite as

What is a mechanism? Thinking about mechanisms across the sciences

  • Phyllis McKay Illari
  • Jon Williamson
Original paper in Metaphysics of Science


After a decade of intense debate about mechanisms, there is still no consensus characterization. In this paper we argue for a characterization that applies widely to mechanisms across the sciences. We examine and defend our disagreements with the major current contenders for characterizations of mechanisms. Ultimately, we indicate that the major contenders can all sign up to our characterization.


Mechanism Explanation MDC Glennan Bechtel Astrophysical mechanism 



We wish to thank the Leverhulme Trust for supporting this research. We are also indebted to colleagues at Kent and in the Causality in the Sciences network for discussion of many of these issues. The work has been significantly improved due to detailed comments from Stuart Glennan, Federica Russo and two anonymous referees. Remaining errors are, of course, our own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of KentCanterbury KentUK

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