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Making a DifferenceEssays on the Philosophy of Causation$
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Helen Beebee, Christopher Hitchcock, and Huw Price

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198746911

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: July 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198746911.001.0001

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Can Structural Equations Explain How Mechanisms Explain?

Can Structural Equations Explain How Mechanisms Explain?

(p.132) 8 Can Structural Equations Explain How Mechanisms Explain?
Making a Difference

Nancy Cartwright

Oxford University Press

In ‘The Causal Structure of Mechanisms’, Peter Menzies develops a structural equations account of mechanism to show how mechanisms explain causal regularities. This chapter distinguishes two senses of mechanism: first, the process by which the cause produces the effect, and second, the underlying structure that affords this process. The chapter argues that representing mechanisms by structural equations is great for showing how the intermediate steps in the process can connect the beginning cause with the end effect. But this is just a ‘surface’ phenomenon. The causal possibilities described in the structural equations depend on an underlying structure that gives rise to them. So this leaves us still with the job of understanding and representing that underlying structure and coming to grips with the question of how it gives rise to those causal possibilities.

Keywords:   mechanism, causal process, structural equations, nomological machine, activity, ‘Ballung’ concepts

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