Topological explanations and robustness in biological sciences

Synthese 177 (2):213-245 (2010)
This paper argues that besides mechanistic explanations, there is a kind of explanation that relies upon “topological” properties of systems in order to derive the explanandum as a consequence, and which does not consider mechanisms or causal processes. I first investigate topological explanations in the case of ecological research on the stability of ecosystems. Then I contrast them with mechanistic explanations, thereby distinguishing the kind of realization they involve from the realization relations entailed by mechanistic explanations, and explain how both kinds of explanations may be articulated in practice. The second section, expanding on the case of ecological stability, considers the phenomenon of robustness at all levels of the biological hierarchy in order to show that topological explanations are indeed pervasive there. Reasons are suggested for this, in which “neutral network” explanations are singled out as a form of topological explanation that spans across many levels. Finally, I appeal to the distinction of explanatory regimes to cast light on a controversy in philosophy of biology, the issue of contingence in evolution, which is shown to essentially involve issues about realization
Keywords Explanation  Topology  Mechanisms  Evolutionary contingency  Robustness  Realization
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References found in this work BETA
Daniel C. Dennett (1996). Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Behavior and Philosophy 24 (2):169-174.

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Citations of this work BETA
James Woodward (2013). Mechanistic Explanation: Its Scope and Limits. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1):39-65.
Christopher J. Austin (forthcoming). Evo-Devo: A Science of Dispositions. European Journal for Philosophy of Science:1-17.

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