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mechanismmécanisme (fr.); Mechanismus (ger.)

  • 1) The structure of, or the relationship of the parts in, a machine, or in a construction or process comparable to a machine. (OED 2001)

    To impute that rare mechanism of the works of nature to the blind and fortuitous motion of some particles of matter?

    Stillingfleet, E. (1662). Origines sacrae: 401 (III, §15) (acc. to OED 2011).

  • 2) A system of mutually adapted parts working together in a machine or in a manner analogous to that of a machine; a piece of machinery. (OED 2001)

    Its Mechanism [viz. that of the feet of flies] consists principally in two parts, that is, first its two Claws, or Tallons, and secondly, two Palms, Pattens or Soles.

    Hooke, R. (1665). Micrographia: 170.


    That Opinion that depresseth the natures of sensible Creatures below their just value and estimate, rendring them no more but barely Mechanisms or Artificial Engins; such as were Archytas his Dove, Regiomontanus his wooden Eagle, or Walchius his iron Spider: that they have no vital Principle of all their various Motions but the meer modifications of Matter, or at least the elementary Fire mingled with their other Matter that they have no other form or internal principle of Life, Motion, or Sense but that which is relative and results from the disposition, texture, organization and composition of their several Limbs, Members or Organs

    Hale, M. (1677). Primitive Originat. Mankind: 48.

    bare Mechanism
    Locke, J. (1689/1700). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (ed. P.H. Nidditch, Oxford 1975): 147f.

    Vegetables have, many of them, some degree of Motion, and upon the different application of other Bodies to them, do very briskly alter their Figures and Motions, and so have obtained the name of sensitive Plants, from a motion, which has some resemblance to that, which in Aninmals follows upon Sensation: Yet, I suppose, it is all bare Mechanism; and no otherwise produced, than the turning of a wild Oat-beard, by the insinuation of the Particles of Moisture; or the short’ning of a Rope, by the affusion of Water. All which is done without Sensation in the Subject, or the havini or receiving any Ideas.

    Locke, J. (1689/1700). An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (ed. P.H. Nidditch, Oxford 1975): 147-8.

    [Darwin] rendered conceivable the mechanism of evolution in the organic world
    Allen, G. (1885). Charles Darwin: 183.

    Descartes, in his writings about the nervous system, […] suggested nervous mechanisms.

    Haldane, J.S. (1913). Mechanism, Life and Personality: 9.


    Wir kennen in der Hauptsache die folgenden Bedeutungen des Wortes „Mechanismus“: 1. Mechanismus = Erklärung aus den Prinzipien der Mechanik im eigentlichen Sinn […] 2. Mechanismus = physiko-chemische Erklärung; der heute übliche Sinn des Wortes. – Der Gegensatz dazu wäre: spezifisch biologische Erklärung. 3. Mechanismus = Maschinentheorie. Dem Vorgehen der klassischen Physik folgend, wir getrachtet, das Lebensgeschehen in eine Summe isolierter, physiko-chemischer Vorgänge aufzulösen […] 4. Mechanismus = kausale Erklärung schlechthin (Determinismus). […] 5. Mechanismus = Erklärung aus immanenten, der objektiven Natur angehörigen Prinzipien, oder: Erkärung der raum-zeitlichen Erscheinungen aus raum-zeitlichen Ursachen. Dies ist der wahre Gegensatz zum Vitalismus, der transzendente, unräumliche Faktoren einführt. […]

    Man empfand und empfindet die Selektionstheorie, die Genetik, u.s.f. als „mechanistisch“, weil in ihnen selbstverständlich von vitalistischen „Faktoren“ keine Rede ist, ja diese Theorien zum Teil gerade zur Ausschaltung solcher Faktoren ersonnen wurden. Sie sind auch „mechanistisch“ im Sinne der Bedeutungen 4 und 5 unserer Übersicht […]. Aber sie sind deshalb noch keineswegs […] „mechanistisch“ in der zweiten Bedeutung, d.h. physiko-chemisch; sie arbeiten vielmehr mit durchaus biologischen Begriffen und Vorstellungen, und die Behauptung, daß sie auf Physiko-Chemie „reduziert“ werden müssen, sit vorläufig ein in keiner Weise erfülltes Postulat geblieben.

    Bertalanffy, L. von (1932-42). Theoretische Biologie, 2 vols.: I, 113.

    explaining types of phenomena by discovering mechanisms
    Wimsatt, W. (1974). Reductive explanation. A functional account . In: Cohen, R.S. et al. (eds.). Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association (PSA), 671-710: 671.
    Mechanisms are entities and activities organized such that they are productive of regular changes from start or set-up to finish or termination conditions
    Machamer, P., Darden, L. & Craver, C.F. (2000). Thinking about mechanisms. Philos. Sci. 67, 1-25: 3.
    [A] mechanism for a behaviour is a complex system that produces that behaviour by the interaction of a number of parts, where the interactions between parts can be characterized by direct, invariant, change-relating generalization
    Glennan, S. (2002). Rethinking mechanistic explanation. Philos. Sci. 69, S342-S353: S344.
    evolutionary mechanisms
    Skipper, R.A. Jr. & Millstein, R.L. (2005). Thinking about evolutionary mechanisms: natural selection. Stud. Hist. Philos. Biol. Biomed. Sci. 36, 327-347.
    A mechanism is a structure performing a function in virtue of its component parts, component operations, and their organization. The orchestrated functioning of the mechanism is responsible for one or more phenomena
    Bechtel, W.B. & Abrahamsen, A. (2005). Explanation: a mechanist alternative. Stud. Hist. Philos. Biol. Biomed. Sci. 36, 421-441: 423.
    Natural selection […] is a two-level, multistage stochastic mechanism that explains the phenomenon of adaptation
    Barros, D.B. (2008). Natural selection as a mechanism. Philos. Sci. 75, 306-322: 318.
    mechanisms, organization, and organisms should be understood more dialectically as interrelated concepts
    Wolfe, C.T. (2010). Do organisms have an ontological status? Hist. Philos. Life Sci. 32, 195-232: 209; cf. Bechtel, W. (2007). Biological mechanisms: organized to maintain autonomy. In: Boogerd, F. et al. (eds.). Systems Biology. Philosophical Foundations, 269-302: 296f.