Mechanisms, counterfactuals and laws

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Psillos, Stathis; Ioannidis, Stavros
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In this chapter, we examine the relation between mechanisms and laws/counterfactuals by revisiting the main notions of mechanism found in the literature. We distinguish between two different conceptions of ‘mechanism’: mechanisms-of underlie or constitute a causal process; mechanisms-for are complex systems that function so as to produce a certain behavior. According to some mechanists, a mechanism fulfills both of these roles simultaneously. The main argument of the chapter is that there is an asymmetrical dependence between both kinds of mechanisms and laws/counterfactuals: while some laws and counterfactuals must be taken as primitive (non-mechanistic) facts of the world, all mechanisms depend on laws/counterfactuals.