The idealization of causation in mechanistic explanation

Alan C. Love, Marco J. Nathan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Causal relations among components and activities are intentionally misrepresented in mechanistic explanations found routinely across the life sciences. Since several mechanists explicitly advocate accurately representing factors that make a difference to the outcome, these idealizations conflict with the stated rationale for mechanistic explanation. We argue that these idealizations signal an overlooked feature of reasoning in molecular and cell biology—mechanistic explanations do not occur in isolation—and suggest that explanatory practices within the mechanistic tradition share commonalities with model-based approaches prevalent in population biology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)761-774
Number of pages14
JournalPhilosophy of Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 2015


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