The Whole Story: Explanatory Autonomy and Convergent Evolution

Forthcoming: In David M. Kaplan (ed.), Explanation and Integration in Mind and Brain Science, Oxford University Press

Abstract: Causal explanations in the high-level sciences typically black-box the low-level details of the causal mechanisms that they invoke to account for their explananda: economists black-box psychological processes; psychologists black-box neural processes; and so on. Are these black-boxing explanatory models complete explanations of the phenomena in question, or are they just sketches of or templates for the whole explanatory story? This chapter poses a focused version of the question in the context of convergent evolution, the existence of which appears to show that underlying mechanisms are completely irrelevant to the explanation of high-level biological features, including perhaps thought and language—in which case a black-boxing model would be a complete explanation of such features rather than a mere sketch. Arguments for and against such a model's explanatory completeness are considered; the chapter comes down tentatively against.

PDF version of The Whole Story.