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Book: Explanation

Chapter: 3. Mechanisms – The New Mechanical Philosophy

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.34328


The rise of the evolutionary and cognitive science of religion in the last two decades has sparked a resurgence of interest in explaining religion. Predictably, these efforts have prompted rehearsals of longstanding debates over definitions of religion (what is being explained) and whether religious phenomena can or should be explained in nonreligious terms. Little attention has been devoted to the nature of explanation, methods of explanation, or what should count as an adequate explanation. This book addresses a series of basic questions in relation to long-standing discussions in the philosophy of science about explanations, causality, and mechanisms: What is an explanation? What is the relation between interpretation, theory, and explanation? Is there a place for human intentions, meanings, and values in scientific explanations? In light of recent developments in the philosophy of science, the authors make a case for the value of explanations and suggest ways in which explanatory approaches can be tested in practice by means of computer modeling and experimental methods.

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