Explaining features of fine-grained phenomena using abstract analyses of phenomena and mechanisms: two examples from chronobiology

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Synthese, ISSN: 0039-7857, Page: 1-23

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Bechtel, William
Springer Nature; Springer
Arts and Humanities; Social Sciences
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Explanations of biological phenomena such as cell division, protein synthesis or circadian rhythms commonly take the form of models of the responsible mechanisms. Recently philosophers of science have attempted to analyze this practice, presenting mechanisms as organized collections of parts performing operations that together produce the phenomenon. But in some cases what researchers seek to explain is not a general phenomenon, but a specific feature of a more fine-grained phenomenon. In some of these cases, it is not the model of the mechanism that performs the explanatory work. I consider a case in which the investigator offered an abstract representation of a fine-grained phenomenon to show why in had the feature in question. I consider a second case in which a researcher abstracted from the mechanism to identify a design principle that explains why the functioning mechanism exhibits a specific feature.