Repository URL:
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/11224
Author(s):
Oron Shagrir, William Bechtel
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preprint description
A key component of scientific inquiry, especially inquiry devoted to developing mechanistic explanations, is delineating the phenomenon to be explained. The task of delineating phenomena, however, has not been sufficiently analyzed, even by the new mechanistic philosophers of science. We contend that Marr’s characterization of what he called the computational level (CL) provides a valuable resource for understanding what is involved in delineating phenomena. Unfortunately, the distinctive feature of Marr’s computational level, his dual emphasis on both what is computed and why it is computed, has not been appreciated in philosophical discussions of Marr. Accordingly we offer a distinctive account of CL. This then allows us to develop two important points about delineating phenomena. First, the accounts of phenomena that figure in explanatory practice are typically not qualitative but precise, formal or mathematical, representations. Second, delineating phenomena requires consideration of the demands the environment places on the mechanism—identifying, as Marr put it, the basis of the computed function in the world. As valuable as Marr’s account of CL is in characterizing phenomena, we contend that ultimately he did not go far enough. Determining the relevant demands of the environment on the mechanism often requires detailed empirical investigation. Moreover, often phenomena are reconstituted in the course of inquiry on the mechanism itself.

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