Krickel, B. (2018). The Mechanical World - The Metaphysical Commitments of the New Mechanistic Approach, Springer.

The aim of this book is to develop a metaphysical account of mechanisms. So far, the new mechanistic literature has mainly focused on epistemic issues such as scientific explanation, scientific discovery, and causal modelling. This book takes a difference stance: I will investigate in which sense mechanisms are things in the world; what our ontology has to look like in order for mechanisms to exist, and its implications for causation, levels, and part–whole relations; and how metaphysics and scientific explanation relate to each other. I will discuss whether the metaphysics of mechanisms is reductionist, and whether it leaves room for the causal efficacy of higher-level phenomena. Finally, I hope to provide a starting point for new projects on issues in the philosophy of mind, such as non-reductive physicalism as a solution to the mind–body problem.

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"The Mechanical World is an intellectually challenging book offering a particularly clear and rigorous discussion of some very important issues in contemporary philosophy of science. I am convinced philosophers and philosophically minded scientists will greatly enjoy and appreciate it." (Review by Tudor Baetu in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences)

further reviews:

Stuart Glennan in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Articles in Peer-Reviewed Journals


Krickel, B. (2019)."Extended Cognition, The New Mechanists’ Mutual Manipulability Criterion, and The Challenge of Trivial Extendedness", Mind & Language.

Many authors have turned their attention to the notion of constitution to determine whether the hypothesis of extended cognition (EC) is true. One common strategy is to make sense of constitution in terms of the new mecha- nists' mutual manipulability (MM) account. In this paper, I will show that MM is insufficient. The Challenge of Triv- ial Extendedness arises due to the fact that mechanisms for cognitive behaviors are extended in a way that should not count as verifying EC. This challenge can be met by adding a necessary condition: cognitive constituents satisfy MM and they are what I call behavior unspecific.

While ideal (surgical) interventions are acknowledged by many as valu- able tools for the analysis of causation, recent discussions have shown that, since there are no ideal interventions on upper-level phenomena that non-reductively su- pervene on their underlying mechanisms, interventions cannot—contrary to a pop- ular opinion—ground an informative analysis of constitution. This has led some to abandon the project of analyzing constitution in interventionist terms. By contrast, this paper defines the notion of a horizontally surgical intervention, and argues that, when combined with some innocuous metaphysical principles about the relation be- tween upper and lower levels of mechanisms, that notion delivers a sufficient condi- tion for constitution. This, in turn, strengthens the case for an interventionist analysis of constitution.

Many philosophers as well as psychologists hold that implicit biases are due to unconscious attitudes. The justification for this unconscious-claim seems to be an inference to the best explanation of the mismatch between explicit and implicit attitudes, which is characteristic for implicit biases. The unconscious-claim has recently come under attack based on its inconsistency with empirical data. Instead, Gawronski et al. (2006) analyze implicit biases based on the so-called Associative-Propositional Evaluation (APE) model, according to which implicit attitudes are phenomenally conscious and accessible. The mismatch between the explicit and the implicit attitude is explained by the Cognitive Inconsistency Approach (CIA) (as I will call it): implicit attitudes are conscious but rejected as basis for explicit judgments because the latter lead to cognitive inconsistency with respect to other beliefs held by the subject. In this paper, I will argue that the CIA is problematic since it cannot account for the fact that implicit attitudes underlying implicit biases typically are unconscious. I will argue that a better explanation of the attitude-mismatch can be given in terms of a Neo-Freudian account of repression. I will develop such an account, and I will show how it can accommodate the merits of the APE model while avoiding the problems of the CIA.

Constitutive mechanistic explanations are said to refer to mechanisms that constitutethe phenomenon-to-be-explained. The most prominent approach of how to understand this relation is Carl Craver's mutual manipulability approach (MM) to constitutive relevance. Recently, MM has come under attack (Baumgartner and Casini 2017; Baumgartner and Gebharter 2015; Harinen 2014; Kästner 2017; Leuridan 2012; Romero 2015). It is argued that MM is inconsistent because, roughly, it is spelled out in terms of interventionism (which is an approach to causation), whereas constitutive relevance is said to be a non-causal relation. In this paper, I will discuss a strategy of how to resolve this inconsistency—so-called fat-handedness approaches(Baumgartner and Casini 2017; Baumgartner and Gebharter 2015; Romero 2015). I will argue that these approaches are problematic. I will present a novel suggestion for how to consistently define constitutive relevance in terms of interventionism. My approach is based on a causal interpretation of manipulability in terms of causal relations between the mechanism's components and what I will call temporal EIO-parts of the phenomenon. Still, this interpretation accounts for the fundamental difference between constitutive relevance and causal relevance.

Most defenders of the new mechanistic approach accept ontic constraints for successful scientific explanation (Illari [2013]; Craver [2014]). The minimal claim is that scientific explanations have objective truthmakers, namely, mechanisms that exist in the physical world, independent of any observer, and that cause or constitute the phenomena-to-be-explained. How can this idea be applied to type-level explanations? Many authors at least implicitly assume that in order for mechanisms to be the truthmakers of type-level explanation, they need to be regular (Andersen [2012]; Sheredos [2016]). One problem of this assumption is that most mechanisms are (highly) stochastic in the sense that they ‘fail more often than they succeed’ (Bogen [2005]; Andersen [2012]). How can a mechanism type whose instances are more likely not to produce an instance of a particular phenomenon type be the truthmaker of the explanation of that particular phenomenon type? In this article, I will give an answer to this question. I will analyse the notion of regularity and I will discuss Andersen's suggestion for how to cope with stochastic mechanisms. I will argue that her suggestion cannot account for all kinds of stochastic mechanisms and does not provide an answer as to why regularity grounds type-level explanation. According to my analysis, a mechanistic type-level explanation is true if and only if at least one of the following two conditions is satisfied: the mechanism brings about the phenomenon more often than any other phenomenon (‘comparative regularity’) or the phenomenon is more often brought about by the mechanism than by any other mechanism or causal sequence (‘comparative reverse regularity’). 

According to the new mechanistic approach, an acting entity is at a lower mechanistic level than another acting entity if and only if the former is a component in the mechanism for the latter. Craver and Bechtel (Biol Philos 22(4):547–563, 2007. doi:10.1007/s10539-006-9028-8) argue that a consequence of this view is that there cannot be causal interactions between acting entities at different mechanistic levels. Their main reason seems to be what I will call the Metaphysical Argument: things at different levels of a mechanism are related as part and whole; wholes and their parts cannot be related as cause and effect; hence, interlevel causation in mechanisms is impossible. I will analyze this argument in more detail and show under which conditions it is valid. This analysis will reveal that interlevel causation in mechanisms is indeed possible, if we take seriously the idea that the relata of the mechanistic level relation are acting entities and accept a slightly modified

notion of a mechanistic level that is highly plausible in the light of the first clarification.

The central aim of this article is to specify the ontological nature of constitutive mechanistic phenomena (that is, of phenomena that are explained in constitutive mechanistic explanations). After identifying three criteria of adequacy that any plausible approach to constitutive mechanistic phenomena must satisfy, we present four different suggestions, found in the mechanistic literature, of what mechanistic phenomena might be. We argue that none of these suggestions meets the criteria of adequacy. According to our analysis, constitutive mechanistic phenomena are best understood as what we will call ‘object-involving occurrents’. Furthermore, on the basis of this notion, we will clarify what distinguishes constitutive mechanistic explanations from etiological ones. 

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Other Peer-Reviewed Works


Opponents of the new mechanistic account argue that the new mechanists are committed to a ‘More Details Are Better’ claim: adding details about the mechanism always improves an explanation. Due to this commitment, the mechanistic account cannot be descriptively adequate as actual scientific explanations usually leave out details about the mechanism. In reply to this objection, defenders of the new mechanistic account have highlighted that only adding relevantmechanistic details improves an explanation and that relevance is to be determined relative to the phenomenon-to-be-explained. Craver and Kaplan (2018) provide a reply along these lines specifying that the phenomena at issue are contrasts. In this paper, we will discuss Craver and Kaplan’s reply. We will argue that it needs modification in order to avoid three problems: the Odd Ontology Problem, the Multiplication of Mechanisms Problem, and the Ontic Completeness Problem. However, even this modification is confronted with two challenges: First, it remains unclear how explanatory relevance is to be determined for contrastive explananda within the mechanistic framework. Second, it remains to be shown as to how the new mechanistic account can avoid what we will call the ‘Vertical More Details are Better’ objection. We will provide answers to both challenges.

The bibliography provides an overview of the most central topics within the new mechanistic debate and summarizes many of the most important works.

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Other Works


Krickel, B. (2021). "Epiphänomenalismus", in: Hoffmann-Kolss, V. (ed.), Handbuch Philosophie des Geistes, Metzler Verlag.

Krickel, B., Newen, A. (2019). DFG-Graduiertenkolleg 2185 “Situierte Kognition.” Neuroforum, 25(1), 3–5. doi:10.1515/nf-2018-0024

Presentation of the DFG-Graduiertenkolleg/Research Training Group "Situated Cognition".

Krickel, B., Reutlinger, A. (2010). "Searle on Mental Causation. Biological Naturalism, or something near enough", in: Franken, D., Karakus, A., Michel, J. (Hrsg.), Münstersche Vorlesungen zur Philosophie: John R. Searle - Thinking About the Real World, Ontos Verlag.

Searle intends to solve the problem of mental causation by rejecting the traditional vocabulary of the “mental” and the “physical”. Instead, he takes consciousness to be a higher-level state of the brain caused by neuronal lower-level states. We will investigate this theory called Biological Naturalism and give a plausible, mechanistic interpretation of it that we suppose fits Searle’s ideas. We ask whether Biological Naturalism really can solve the problem of mental causation. We will argue that it is incapable of solving the “hard” problem. A suggestion is given of how a solution might be integrated into Biological Naturalism.

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My review record (Publons)


Hursthouse, R. (2014). "Tugendethik und der Umgang mit Tieren", in: Schmitz, F., Tierethik, translated from English to German by Bünker, S., & Krickel, B., Berlin: Suhrkamp, S. 321-148.

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