Constitutive Inference and the Problem of a Complete Variation of Factors

  • Jens Harbecke
Part of the European Studies in Philosophy of Science book series (ESPS, volume 9)


This paper aims to solve a potential problem for the methodology of constitutive inference offered by Harbecke (Stud Hist Philos Sci C: Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci 54:10–19, 2015b). The methodology is ultimately based on Mill’s “method of difference”, which requires a complete variation of factors in a given frame. In constitutive contexts, such a complete variation is often impossible. The offered solution utilizes the notion of a “mechanism slice”. In a first step, an example of a currently accepted explanation in neuroscience is reconstructed, which serves as a reference point of the subsequent discussion. The regularity theory of mechanistic constitution and the corresponding methodology of constitutive inference are then introduced. Eventually, it is argued that the proposed solution accommodates well all schematic situations in which the impossibility of varying all test factors could be expected either to lead to false inferences or to preclude the establishment of correct constitutive claims.


Mechanistic explanation Constitutive inference Constitutive explanation Scientific models Regularity theory of constitution 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Theoretical Philosophy and Philosophy of the Social SciencesWitten/Herdecke UniversityWittenGermany

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