HPS Brown Bag Talk. Carl Gillett - "The Parts of Science"


Location: 131 Decio Hall

Carl Gillett (Northern Illinois University): "The Parts of Science"

So-called ‘inter-level mechanistic explanations’ famously allowed us to pierce the Manifest Image of common sense by explaining things like diamonds, with properties such as hardness and processes like scratching, using individuals with very different properties and processes, such as carbon atoms with their covalent bonding and processes of holding each other in relation spatial positions even under high pressures. This is ‘piercing explanatory power’, or ‘PEP’, where qualitatively distinct entities are used to explain each other and is distinctive of inter-level mechanistic explanations that continue to drive much scientific insight. A consensus is now emerging that inter-level mechanistic explanation is compositional in nature, for it appears to work by identifying lower level entities that compose, rather than cause or produce, certain qualitatively distinct higher level entities and hence explain the existence of those entities. However, critics have recently pressed the point that the so-called ‘new mechanism’ focused on these explanations (Bechtel and Richardson (1994), Machamer, Darden and Craver (2000), and Craver (2007)) has yet to produce an account of their compositional notions. In this paper, I offer an account of the part-whole relations between individuals posited in such explanations that accommodates their PEP and other distinctive features. And I also detail why the two most popular compositional frameworks in philosophy, from analytic metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, each fail to fit such scientific notions.