Hierarchies, Networks, and Causality: The Applied Evolutionary Epistemological Approach

Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 52 (2):313-334 (2021)
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Applied Evolutionary Epistemology is a scientific-philosophical theory that defines evolution as the set of phenomena whereby units evolve at levels of ontological hierarchies by mechanisms and processes. This theory also provides a methodology to study evolution, namely, studying evolution involves identifying the units that evolve, the levels at which they evolve, and the mechanisms and processes whereby they evolve. Identifying units and levels of evolution in turn requires the development of ontological hierarchy theories, and examining mechanisms and processes necessitates theorizing about causality. Together, hierarchy and causality theories explain how biorealities form and diversify with time. This paper analyzes how Applied EE redefines both hierarchy and causality theories in the light of the recent explosion of network approaches to causal reasoning associated with studies on reticulate and macroevolution. Causality theories have often been framed from within a rigid, ladder-like hierarchy theory where the rungs of the ladder represent the different levels, and the elements on the rungs represent the evolving units. Causality then is either defined reductionistically as an upward movement along the strands of a singular hierarchy, or holistically as a downward movement along that same hierarchy. Upward causation theories thereby analyze causal processes in time, i.e. over the course of natural history or phylogenetically, as Darwin and the founders of the Modern Synthesis intended. Downward causation theories analyze causal processes in space, ontogenetically or ecologically, as the current eco-evo-devo schools are evidencing. This work demonstrates how macroevolution and reticulate evolution theories add to the complexity by examining reticulate causal processes in space–time, and the interactional hierarchies that such studies bring forth introduce a new form of causation that is here called reticulate causation. Reticulate causation occurs between units and levels belonging to different as well as to the same ontological hierarchies. This article concludes that beyond recognizing the existence of multiple units, levels, and mechanisms or processes of evolution, also the existence of multiple kinds of evolutionary causation as well as the existence of multiple evolutionary hierarchies needs to be acknowledged. This furthermore implies that evolution is a pluralistic process divisible into different kinds.

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