Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Talk: Lauren N. Ross (UC Irvine)

Location: Ludwigstr. 31, ground floor, room 021

20.07.2022 18:00  – 20:00 


Cascade versus mechanism: The diversity of causal structure in science


According to mainstream philosophical views, causal explanation in biology and neuroscience is mechanistic. As the term “mechanism” gets regular use in these fields it is unsurprising that philosophers consider it important to scientific explanation. What is surprising is that they consider it the only causal term of importance. This talk provides an analysis of a new causal concept–it examines the cascade concept in science and the causal structure it refers to. I argue that this concept is importantly different from the notion of mechanism and that this difference matters for our understanding of causal explanation in science. In particular, I show how these causal structures (i) have different features, (ii) are associated with different analogies, and (iii) are studied with different investigative strategies. Furthermore, while mechanisms are often examined with respect to explanations in the life sciences, I argue that the cascade concept refers to a causal pattern found in many different scientific fields, including physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, ecology, and economics. In contrast to mechanistic views, this analysis suggests that there are a diversity of causal structures and causal explanations in science.