Much of the recent philosophical debate on causation and causal explanation in the biological and biomedical sciences has focused on the notion of mechanism. Mechanisms, their nature and epistemic roles have been tackled by a range of so-called neo-mechanistic theories, and widely discussed. Without denying the merits of this approach, our paper aims to show how lately it has failed to give proper credit to processes, which are central to the field, especially of contemporary molecular biology. Processes can be summed up in the notion of ‘pathway’, which is far from being just equivalent to that of ‘mechanism’ and has a profound epistemological and explanatory relevance. It is argued that an adequate consideration of pathways impels some rethinking of scientific explanation in molecular biology, namely its functional and contextual features. A number of examples are given to suggest that the focus of philosophical attention in this disciplinary field should shift from the notion of mechanism to the notion of pathway.
Biology & Philosophy – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 2, 2018
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