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Causality in the Sciences$
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Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo, and Jon Williamson

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199574131

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574131.001.0001

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The idea of mechanism

The idea of mechanism

Chapter:
(p.771) 36 The idea of mechanism
Source:
Causality in the Sciences
Author(s):

Stathis Psillos

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199574131.003.0036

This chapter disentangles two ideas of mechanism and point to the key problems they face. Section 36.2 offers an outline of the mechanical conception of mechanism, as this was introduced in the seventeenth century and developed later on. Section 36.3 presents Poincaré's critique of mechanical mechanism in relation with the principle of conservation of energy. The gist of this critique is that mechanical mechanisms are too easy to get to be informative, provided that energy is conserved. Section 36.4 motivates the quasi‐mechanical conception of mechanism and traces it to Kant's Critique of Judgement and to C.D. Broad's critique of pure mechanism. Section 36.5 reconstructs Hegel's critique of the idea of quasi‐mechanism, as this was developed in his Science of Logic. Hegel's problem, in essence, was that the unity that mechanisms possess is external to them and that the very idea that all explanation is mechanical is devoid of content. Section 36.6 brings together Poincaré's problem and Hegel's problem and concludes that though mechanisms are not the building blocks of nature, the search for mechanisms is epistemologically and methodologically welcome.

Keywords:   mechanism, mechanical philosophy, Poincaré, Hegel, unification, function

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