Seventeenth-Century Mechanism: An Alternative Framework for Reductionism

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Theurer, Kari L.
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conference paper description
The consensus view in philosophy of science is that reductionism is dead. One reason for this is that the deductive nomological (DN) model of explanation, on which classical reductionism depends, is widely regarded as indefensible. I argue that the DN model is inessential to the reductionist framework, and that mechanism provides a better framework for thinking about reductionism. But this runs counter to the contemporary mechanists’ claim that their view provides a distinct alternative to reductionism. I demonstrate that this view is mistaken. Mechanists are committed to reductionism, as evidenced by the historical roots of the contemporary mechanist program: namely, in the mechanical philosophy of Descartes, Boyle, and others. This view shares certain core commitments with classical and contemporary reductionists. I argue that it is these shared commitments, not a direct commitment to the DN model, that constitute the essential elements of the reductionist program.