Real Patterns in Biological Explanation

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Burnston, Daniel
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conference paper description
In discussion of mechanisms, philosophers often debate about whether quantitative descriptions of generalizations or qualitative descriptions of operations are explanatorily fundamental. I argue that these debates have erred by conflating the explanatory roles of generalizations and patterns. Patterns are types of quantitative relationships that hold between quantities in a mechanism, over time and/or across conditions. While these patterns must often be represented in addition to descriptions of operations in order to explain a phenomenon, they are not equivalent to generalizations, because their explanatory role does not depend on any specific facts about their scope or domain of invariance.