European Journal for Philosophy of Science

, Volume 4, Issue 3, pp 337–359 | Cite as

On the relation between quantum mechanical and neo-mechanistic ontologies and explanatory strategies

  • Meinard Kuhlmann
  • Stuart GlennanEmail author
Original paper in Philosophy of Physics


Advocates of the New Mechanicism in philosophy of science argue that scientific explanation often consists in describing mechanisms responsible for natural phenomena. Despite its successes, one might think that this approach does not square with the ontological strictures of quantum mechanics. New Mechanists suppose that mechanisms are composed of objects with definite properties, which are interconnected via local causal interactions. Quantum mechanics calls these suppositions into question. Since mechanisms are hierarchical it appears that even macroscopic mechanisms must supervene on a set of “objects” that behave non-classically. In this paper we argue, in part by appeal to the theory of quantum decoherence, that the universal validity of quantum mechanics does not undermine neo-mechanistic ontological and explanatory claims as they occur within in classical domains. Additionally, we argue that by relaxation of certain classical assumptions, mechanistic explanatory strategies can sometimes be carried over into the quantum domain.


Mechanisms Emergence Microphysicalism Classicality Explanation Decoherence 



We thank Laura Felline, Helmut Fink, Thorben Petersen and Manfred Stöckler for discussions and comments on earlier drafts. We are also grateful to two anonymous referees whose feedback much improved this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Philosophy, Bielefeld UniversityBielefeldGermany
  2. 2.Butler UniversityIndianapolisUSA

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