History and Philosophy Of Science | History & Philosophy of Mechanism
X706 | 26094 | Colin Allen/Domenico Bertoloni Meli


History & Philosophy of Mechanism

This course examines select episodes and themes in the history and
philosophy of the notion of mechanism, paying special attention to
the ideas that mechanistic thinking has been contrasted against:
these include the role of the soul and its faculties, different
forms of teleology, mind-body dualism, and vitalism. In addition, we
consider the relationships of mechanism to issues such as
reductionism, emergence, and causation.  We will examine reasons why
mechanistic approaches have been taken up at different rates in the
physicalsciences, the life sciences, and the psychological
sciences.  The course will cover the role of technology both as a
source of ideas about the nature of mechanisms and in providing
scientific instruments that make it possible to discover mechanisms
at smaller and smaller scales, such as the microscope.  One of this
course's aims is to examine how mechanistic explanations have been
variously assimilated to and contrasted with law like explanation by
different thinkers. Readings will include primary sources starting
from antiquity as well as texts from the recent philosophical
literature. Key figures include Aristotle, Galen, René Descartes,
Thomas Hobbes, Marcello Malpighi, Abraham Tremblay, Thomas Huxley,
and Alan Turing. We also plan to examine the recent surge of
interest in mechanistic thinking among current philosophers of
science, such as William Bechtel.