—version 2009-01-11--UNDER CONSTRUCTION! brain and neuron image

HPSC X706 — History and Philosophy of Mechanism

Meeting time: M 1:00-3:30; Location: GB 107


Nico Bertoloni-Meli, PhD <> 855-8746; Goodbody 116
Colin Allen, PhD <> 855-8916; Goodbody 113

Course Description

This course offers historical and philosophical reflections on select episodes relevant to the notion of mechanism. We pay special attention to the ideas mechanistic thinking has been contrasted against from antiquity to contemporary debates. The course is based on presentations on primary and secondary readings. Besides required readings we have provided a brief list of additional optional readings.

Grading Basis

Your grade will be based on class participation, online forum and classroom presentations, and a final essay.

Forum postings

Brief Engagements: For any given course meeting, two students will be required to write a "brief engagement" on her/his choice of the texts assigned for that day. An engagement should be in the neighborhood of 500-800 words, and should provide some combination of (i) summarizing the important points and/or arguments of the text, and moreover (ii) critically evaluating those points and/or arguments. Such critical evaluation will often be negative, but may also take the form of looking to strengthen the author's arguments, or extend them in directions that the author might not have anticipated. Engagements must be posted to the relevant Oncourse discussion threads no later than Friday night.

Online Commentary: For any given course meeting, everyone who is not writing an engagement is required to make at least one comment on each discussion thread. So, because there will be normaly two engagements for any week, everyone else will need to do at least two comments, one on each engagement. Ideally, interesting conversations will break out as a result, and certainly everyone is encouraged (even if not required) to respond to and critically (but politely!) engage each others' comments. The required comments must be posted to the relevant Oncourse discussion threads no later than 11 a.m. Monday.

Classroom presentations

Each student will be designated once during the semester as a classroom presenter. The schedule is shown in the table below. The person whose name appears *thus* is the designated presenter, and also one of the two forum starters, along with the person whose name follows.


Items will be provided electronically as linked to the schedule below, or made available for photocopy. This schedule may be altered in response to events in class.

DateTopicRequired ReadingsOptional Readings
Week 1
January 12Introduction
• Craver, C. & Bechtel, W. (2006) "Mechanism," in S. Sarkar & J. Pfeifer (eds.), Philosophy of science: an encyclopedia (pp. 469-478). New York: Routledge.
Week 2
January 19MLK Jr. Day, no class
Week 3*Rose* + Best
January 26Philosophical preliminaries
• Machamer, P., Darden, L., & Craver, C.F. (2000) "Thinking about mechanisms." Philosophy of Science 67, 1-25.
• Craver, Carl (2007) Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience, OUP: chapter 1 ms. preprint
• Craver, Carl (2005) "Beyond reduction: mechanisms, multifield integration and the unity of neuroscience" Stud. Hist. Phil. Biol. & Biomed. Sci. 36 (2005) 373–395
• Bechtel, W. & Richardson, R. (1993) Discovering Complexity (Princeton U. Press): chapter 2
• Glennan, S. (2002) "Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation"
• Tabery, J. (2004) "Synthesizing Activities and Interactions in the Concept of a Mechanism" Phil. Sci. 71: 1 – 15.
• Craver ch2 ms. preprint
Week 4*Baker* + Kolchinsky
February 2Aristotle
• Aristotle, De Anima I and II 1-4; available online.
• H. von Staden, “Teleology and Mechanism: Aristotelian Biology and Hellenistic Medicine,” in W. Kullman and S. Föllinger, eds, Aristotelische Biologie, (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1997), 183-208.
• the entry on “Teleology” by J.G. Lennox, in E. Fox Keller and E.A. Lloyd, eds, Keywords in Evolutionary Biology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 324-33
• Kullman and Föllinger Aristotelische Biologie, contains several relevant essays.
• Sylvia Berryman, “Aristotle on pneuma and animal self-motion”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 23 (2002), 85-97. Google books
February 6

Carl Craver talk

• Craver, Carl (2007) Explaining the Brain: Mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience, OUP: chapter 5 ms. preprint
Week 5*Bovee* + Woods
February 9Galen of Pergamum
• Galen, On the Natural Faculties. Translated by A.J. Brock (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1916: also available online at, I:1-13, II:1-5, III:1-5.
• M. Schiefsky, “Galen’s Teleology and Functional Explanation”, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 33 (2007), 369-400.
•Galen, On the Usefulness of the parts of the Body. Translated by M. Tallmadge May (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968), especially books 1 and 17.
Week 6*Sargsyan* + Gennaro
February 16René Descartes
• R. Descartes, Treatise on Man and Description of the Human Body, in The World and Other Writings, ed. by S. Gaukroger, 99-139 and 182-198.
• R. Descartes, Discourse on Method, section 5.
• S. Gaukroger, Descartes. An Intellectual Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 269-90.
• D. Des Chene, Spirits and Clocks. Machine and Organism in Descartes (Itahca: Cornell University Press, 2001).
• R. Wilkin, “Essaying the Mechanical Hypothesis: Descartes, La Forge, and Malebranche on the Formation of Birthmarks”, ESM, 13 (2008), 533-67.
• Bertoloni-Meli Thinking with Objects pp.1-6 and chs. 1 and 5.
• Hobbes, Leviathan selection; and Hobbes' Second Objection to Descartes
Week 7*Klein* + Rose
February 23William Harvey
• W. Harvey, Disputations Touching the Generation of Animals. Translated by G. Whitteridge (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981), xxxiv-liii, 17-20, 135-55, 282-300.
• J.G. Lennox, “The Comparative Study of Animal Development”, in J. Smith, ed., The Problem of Animal Generation, 21-46.
• K.J. Ekholm, “Harvey’s and Highmore’s Accounts of Chick Generation”, Early Science and Medicine, 13 (2008), 568-614.
• R. Hooke, Micrographia (London: John Martyn and James Allestry, 1665), 121-35.
• D. Bates, “Machina ex deo: William Harvey and the meaning of instrument,” Journal of the History of Ideas 61 (2000), 577-593.
• C. Webster, “William Harvey’s Conception of the Heart as a Pump”, BHM 39 (1965) 508-17.
Week 8*McNeela* + Baker
March 2Marcello Malpighi
• M. Malpighi, “De polypo cordis. An Annotated Translation”, by J.M. Forrester, Medical History, 3 (1995), 477-92.
• D. Bertoloni Meli, “Blood, Monsters, and Necessity in Malpighi’s De polypo cordis, Medical History, 45 (2001), 511-22.
• F. Duchesneau, “Malpighi, Descartes, and the Epistemological Problems of Iatromechanism”, in, Reason, Experiment, and Mysticism, ed. M.L. Righini Bonelli and W. Shea, 111-30. D. Bertoloni Meli, ed., Marcello Malpighi, Anatomist and Physician (Florence: Olschki, 1997).
• L. Belloni, “Marcello Malpighi and the Founding of Anatomical Microscopy”, in M.L. Righini Bonelli and W.R. Shea, eds, Reason, Experiment, and Mysticism in the Scientific Revolution (London: Science History Publications, 1975), 95-110.
Week 9*Woods* + Coko
March 9Mechanisms, Causes, and Complex Systems
• Glennan (1996) "Mechanisms and the nature of causation." Erkenntnis 44: 49-71.
• Bechtel, W. (2007) Biological mechanisms: organized to maintain autonomy" in Boogerd et al. (eds.) Systems Biology: Philosophical Foundations, Elsevier, pp.269-302.
• J Wimsatt, W. (1974) Complexity and Organization. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association (1972), 67-86. Available at JSTOR (requires IU identity)
Week of Spring Break
March 16No class
Week 10*Coko* + Bovee
March 23Abraham Trembley
• T.L. Hankins, Science and the Enlightenment (Cambridge: CUP, 1985), chapter 5.
• J. Roger, “The Living World”, in G.S. Rousseau and R. Porter, eds, The Ferment of Knowledge (Cambridge: CUP, 1980), 255-83. G. Cimino and F. Duchesneau, eds, Vitalisms from Haller to the Cell Theory (Florence: Olschki, 1997).
• M.J. Ratcliff, “Abraham Trembley’s Strategy of Generosity and the Scope of Celebrity in the Mid-Eighteenth Century”, Isis 95 (2004), 555-75.
• C. Bonnet, “Of Insects Which Are Multiplied, as It Were, by Cutting or Slips,” Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc.M London, 42 (1743), 468–488.
Week 11*Turner* + Sargsyan
March 30Kant
• Kant, I. (1790) "Critique of Teleological Judgment", Critique of Judgment, Part II, selections from §§61-85.
• Chapter 1 of McLaughlin, P. (1990) Kant’s critique of teleology in biological explanation: Antinomy and teleology. Edwin Mellen Press.
• Maienschein, J. (2005) Epigenesis and Preformationism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Week 12*Best* + Klein
April 6Darwinian Mechanisms
• Allen, Garland (2005). "Mechanism, Vitalism, and Organicism in Late Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Biology: The Importance of Historical Context" Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36: 261-84.
• Ruse, M. (2005) "Darwinism and mechanism: metaphor in science" Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36: 285-302.
• Lennox, J. (1993) "Darwin was a telelologist" Biol. & Phil. 8: 409-421.
• Haeckel, G. (1892) The History of Creation New York: Appleton.
• Skipper & Millstein (2005) "Thinking about evolutionary mechanisms: natural selection" Stud. Hist. Phil. Biol. & Biomed. Sci. 36 327–347
• Ariew, A. (2004) "Platonic and Aristotelian Roots of Teleological Arguments in Cosmology and Biology" in A. Ariew, R. Cummins, M. Perlman (eds.) Functions: New Readings in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology. Oxford University Press.
Week 13*Kolchinsky* + McNeela
April 13Reductionism
• Rosenberg, A. (1997) "Reductionism Redux: Computing the Embryo" Biology and Philosophy 12: 445–470.
• Weber, M. (2005) Philosophy of Experimental Biology, CUP; chapter 2 Reductionism and the Nature of Explanations
• Rosenberg, A. (2006) Darwinian Reductionism, or How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology Introduction
• Multiple authors (2008) Symposium on Rosenberg's DR. Metascience 17: 1-26.
Week 14*Gennaro* + Turner
April 20Mind and Behavior
• Bechtel, W. (2008) Mental Mechanisms selections from ch. 1 and ch. 5
• Huxley, T. (1874). "On the hypothesis that animals are automata, and its history," Fortnightly Review, 22, 199–245.
• Konrad Lorenz (1981) Foundations of Ethology selections
Week 15*Turner*
April 27Inner space: The final frontier
• Bechtel, W. and Abrahamsen, A. (2007) "Explaining Human Freedom and Dignity Mechanistically: From Receptive to Active Mechanisms" J. Phil. Res. 32: 43-66.
• Piccini, G. (2007) "Computational explanation and mechanistic explanation of mind" in Cartographies of the Mind: The Interface between Philosophy and Cognitive Science, de Caro et al. (eds.).
• Chalmers, D. (1995) Facing up to the problems of consciousness J. Consc. Studies 2: 200-219.

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