What is New with the New Mechanistic Philosophy? Comments on In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences

Author Info
Yuki Sugawara
Hisashi Nakao
Office for Research Ethics and Bioethics, National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center, Japan
Department of Global and Science Studies, Yamaguchi University, Japan

        In Search of Mechanisms: Discoveries across the Life Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013) is a new book by Carl Craver and Lindley Darden, two well-known philosophers of science. In the preface, the authors characterize it as a book “for those who like to discover things for themselves and for those who are teaching people to discover things for themselves” as well as “for those engaged in discovery” (p. xvii). They also express their “hope that our colleagues in the history and philosophy of science will see in this work a novel vision of the nature of discovery in biology, a much neglected topic” (Ibid.). Therefore, one can read this book as intended for both philosophers and non-philosophers.

        As such, this review will present two different evaluations of the book dependent upon the intended audience. When read as a book for non-philosophers, the book elicits a positive reaction, as the descriptions presented are clear, informative, and interesting. Readers can find many interesting examples and concise analysis of scientific discoveries included within. Therefore, as a book intended only for lay “people who enjoy figuring out for themselves how things work” (p. xviii), it remains a highly recommended book. However, if evaluated as a book written for philosophers, the review becomes less positive. While some parts of the book are nonetheless thought provoking, others leave readers a bit perplexed and elicit mixed reviews. Most notably, it is questionable whether the authors actually provide “a novel vision of the nature of discovery.” In other words, these philosophic parts of the book tend to repeat already established arguments, and thus can often produce a repetitious sense of déjà vu in readers, rather than the new philosophy promised.

        In what follows, we focus on not the non-philosophical but the philosophical aspects of the book. It describes the merits and limits of the book in regards to what is new and not new, respectively, with the authors’ new mechanistic philosophy as developed in the book. ...