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Heinz von Foerster 100
Organizing Institutions:
Heinz von Foerster Gesellschaft / Wien
ASC – American Society for Cybernetics
WISDOM – Wiener Institut für
  sozialwissenschaftliche Dokumentation und Methodik

Institut für Zeitgeschichte | Universität Wien
AINS – Austrian Institute for Nonlinear Studies
John Mingers

Explanatory mechanisms: The contribution of critical realism and systems thinking/cybernetics

University of Kent,
Canterbury, UK

In recent years the philosophy of science has been moving from the traditional deductive-nomological, covering law model of explanation towards one centred on the key concept of explanatory mechanisms. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to our understanding of mechanistic explanation by bringing in theoretical ideas from two traditions which have had the idea of mechanisms at their core for many years. These are the philosophy of science known as critical realism and the discipline of systems thinking/cybernetics. After briefly outlining their respective literatures, this paper will cover issues such as: ontic versus epistemological explanations; generative causality; non-physical mechanisms including social and cognitive structures; functionalist explanation; localisation; and absences and omissions as causes.

Key Words: causality, critical realism, cybernetics, mechanisms, mechanistic explanation, systems thinking