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Explanation in neuroscience

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The causal-mechanical accounts of explanation proposed by the New Mechanists are tightly coupled with two kinds of realism: an ‘ontic conception’ that conceives of explanations as metaphysical entities, and a traditional scientific realism about the content of scientific theories. I argue in this paper that the former is misguided and the latter is optional. Accounts of mechanistic explanation can be improved by rejecting the notion of ontic explanation, since it marks no new metaphysical distinction and leads to misunderstandings about explanation. Furthermore, a pragmatic account of explanation such as van Fraassen’s can incorporate the New Mechanists’ insights about mechanistic explanation in the life sciences, showing that one needn’t be a realist to appeal to mechanisms. This conclusion lends further support to the idea that philosophical debates about explanation and realism are largely orthogonal.

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