Minds and Machines

, Volume 26, Issue 3, pp 259–285 | Cite as

A Cautionary Contribution to the Philosophy of Explanation in the Cognitive Neurosciences

  • A. Nicolás Venturelli


I propose a cautionary assessment of the recent debate concerning the impact of the dynamical approach on philosophical accounts of scientific explanation in the cognitive sciences and, particularly, the cognitive neurosciences. I criticize the dominant mechanistic philosophy of explanation, pointing out a number of its negative consequences: In particular, that it doesn’t do justice to the field’s diversity and stage of development, and that it fosters misguided interpretations of dynamical models’ contribution. In order to support these arguments, I analyze a case study in computational neuroethology and show why it should not be understood through a mechanistic lens; I specially focus on Zednik’s mechanistic interpretation of the case study. In addition, I argue for a greater appreciation of the relation between explanation and other epistemic goals in the field, as well as an increased sensitivity towards the associated contextual factors.


Explanation Dynamical approach Scientific models Mechanisms Philosophy of neuroscience 



I wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback on my work. Also, thanks to Itatí Branca for her input on an earlier version of the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Humanidades (CONICET/Universidad Nacional de Córdoba)CórdobaArgentina

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