File spoon-archives/bhaskar.archive/bhaskar_1996/96-05-20.182, message 69

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 1996 08:31:47 +0200 SAST
Subject: Re: the importance of mechanisms

Hello again,

[This is a repost of something which did not seem to make it over the 
technical hurdles presently in place when I posted it last week. 
Apologies if anyone ends up getting it twice.]

BTW: I've only just joined the list, so have picked up this thread "on 
the fly." Feel free to mail me to point out places where my posting 
evidences a failure to grasp what is actually at issue in the 

>> Ubiquity determinism can talk of mechanisms, and
>>_must_ be interpreted mechanistically, as long as we don't think
>>of `springs', `pulleys', `clocks' etc., but perhaps complex
>>computer systems, adaptive control systems, quantum computers
>>etc. These are all mechanisms, but of a different kind.

>Although I am in general in agreement with much of what is being said I
>still don't see why it is being insisted in using the term 'mechanism',
>mechanistically. In his afterword to the Shotter book (Conversational
>realities) RB notes that the term mechanism, even when used in the natural
>sciences cannot be interpreted 'mechanistically'. Moreover, I.P. Wright
>seems, at one level, to be equating the term mechanism with 'enduring'
>processes - i.e. Smiths Invisible Hand - whereas to me, a causal mechanism
>can be a momentary 'process/entity/element/thing' which is contributory to
>an actualisation, whether known, empirically observed or not. Although I do
>accept the arguments that other mechanisms do endure. 

I have a physicist acquaintance who balks at Bhaskar's term 
"mechanism" because he thinks that it implies that Bhaskar's 
philosophy is "mechanist", and therefore smacks of physicalism.

I disagree with him, and with any attempt to impose ad hoc 
restrictions on the application of the term "(generative) mechanism." 
A "mechanism" is just "the feature/s of the world which enable 
phenomena X to be accounted for." Surely a Critical Realist would 
agree that it cannot be decided in advance whether the mechanism in 
any particular case would be, say, physical, or enduring, or new or 

It _is_ the case, though, that one's metaphysical commitments will 
constrain one's parameters for what counts as an acceptable mechanism 
- so that a physicalist would insist that the mechanism be physical, 
and an individualist that it not refer to irreducibly non-individual 
phenomena, an actualist that it take a regularity determinist 
form, etc., etc.

This means that in any explanatory debate about some "X" there will 
be space for contention on what sort of mechanism would be 
likely/possible/theoretically acceptable.

-------------------> EXAMPLE: >-------------------------------------

Say I am trying to explain consciousness, and believe:

    (a) That consciousness is real, and irreducible to the purely 
    (b) That materialism is true.
    (c) That some form of Darwinism is correct, so that there has been
        matter longer than there has been life, and life longer than 
        there has been consciousness.
        [I think this is roughy the CR position...]

In _this_ case I would more or less have to believe that the 
mechanism which explains consciousness is in some way emergent from 
matter, but had not always been real (and so that it would be 
possible for the mechanism to once more cease to exist).

Under the same constraints, though, were I interested in something 
like electromagnetism I think it would be proper to imagine the 
mechanism explaining _that_ phenomenon to be a permanent feature of 

----------------------------------> ENDS >--------------------------

Since I don't think we can profitably argue _in general_ about the 
particular properties of mechanisms, it would seem more sensible to 
take each mechanism on its own (or some relevantly related set of 
mechanisms) and contest the issues that arise there.

David Spurrett
The "Instant Intellectual"
(just add funding)
 Say that you do no work,
 and that you will live forever.
                    - Ezra Pound



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