Models, Mechanisms, and Coherence

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Colombo, Matteo; Hartmann, Stephan; van Iersel, Robert
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Life-science phenomena are often explained by specifying the mechanisms that bring them about. The new mechanistic philosophers have done much to substantiate this claim, and to provide us with a better understanding of what mechanisms are and how they explain. While there is disagreement among current mechanists on various issues, they share a common core position and a seeming commitment to some form of scientific realism. But is such a commitment necessary? Is it the best way to go about mechanistic explanation? In this paper, we propose an alternative antirealist account that also fits explanatory practice in the life sciences. We pay special attention to mechanistic models, i.e. scientific models that involve a mechanism, and to the role of coherence considerations in building such models. To illustrate our points, we consider the mechanism for the action potential.