Synthese 195 (1):147-173 (2018)

Medical explanations have often been thought on the model of biological ones and are frequently defined as mechanistic explanations of a biological dysfunction. In this paper, I argue that topological explanations, which have been described in ecology or in cognitive sciences, can also be found in medicine and I discuss the relationships between mechanistic and topological explanations in medicine, through the example of network medicine and medical genetics. Network medicine is a recent discipline that relies on the analysis of various disease networks in order to find organizing principles in disease explanation. My aim is to show how topological explanations in network medicine can help solving the conceptual issues that pure mechanistic explanations of the genetics of disease are currently facing, namely the crisis of the concept of genetic disease, the progressive geneticization of diseases and the dissolution of the distinction between monogenic and polygenic diseases. However, I will also argue that topological explanations should not be considered as independent and radically different from mechanistic explanations for at least two reasons. First, in network medicine, topological explanations depend on and use mechanistic information. Second, they leave out some missing gaps in disease explanation that require, in turn, the development of new mechanistic explanations. Finally, I will insist on the specific contribution of topological explanations in medicine: they push us to develop an explanation of disease in general, instead of focusing on single explanations of individual diseases. This last point may have major consequences for biomedical research.
Keywords Philosophy of science  Philosophy of medicine  Mechanistic explanation  Topological explanation  Network medicine  Genetic disease  Geneticization
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-015-0983-y
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References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.
Abstraction and the Organization of Mechanisms.Arnon Levy & William Bechtel - 2013 - Philosophy of Science 80 (2):241-261.

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