Diversifying the picture of explanations in biological sciences: ways of combining topology with mechanisms

Synthese 195 (1):115-146 (2018)
  Copy   BIBTEX

Abstract

Besides mechanistic explanations of phenomena, which have been seriously investigated in the last decade, biology and ecology also include explanations that pinpoint specific mathematical properties as explanatory of the explanandum under focus. Among these structural explanations, one finds topological explanations, and recent science pervasively relies on them. This reliance is especially due to the necessity to model large sets of data with no practical possibility to track the proper activities of all the numerous entities. The paper first defines topological explanations and then explains why topological explanations and mechanisms are different in principle. Then it shows that they are pervasive both in the study of networks—whose importance has been increasingly acknowledged at each level of the biological hierarchy—and in contexts where the notion of selective neutrality is crucial; this allows me to capture the difference between mechanisms and topological explanations in terms of practical modelling practices. The rest of the paper investigates how in practice mechanisms and topologies are combined. They may be articulated in theoretical structures and explanatory strategies, first through a relation of constraint, second in interlevel theories, or they may condition each other. Finally, I explore how a particular model can integrate mechanistic informations, by focusing on the recent practice of merging networks in ecology and its consequences upon multiscale modelling.

Links

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 74,247

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

Explanation in Classical Population Genetics.Anya Plutynski - 2004 - Philosophy of Science 71 (5):1201-1214.
Systems Biology and the Integration of Mechanistic Explanation and Mathematical Explanation.Ingo Brigandt - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
A Model of Causal, Statistical Explanation in Evolutionary Biology.Bruce David Glymour - 1995 - Dissertation, University of California, San Diego
Functions and Mechanisms in Structural-Modelling Explanations.Guillaume Wunsch, Michel Mouchart & Federica Russo - 2014 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 45 (1):187-208.
Mechanistic Explanation in Engineering Science.Dingmar van Eck - 2015 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):349-375.
Explanations of the Evolution of Sex: A Plurality of Local Mechanisms.Carla Fehr - 2006 - In Stephen H. Kellert, Helen E. Longino & C. Kenneth Waters (eds.), Scientific Pluralism, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 167-189.
Causal and Mechanistic Explanations in Ecology.Jani Raerinne - 2010 - Acta Biotheoretica 59 (3):251-271.
Modeling Evolution.Anya James Plutynski - 2002 - Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania

Analytics

Added to PP
2015-07-09

Downloads
93 (#130,405)

6 months
6 (#123,402)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

Philippe Huneman
University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

References found in this work

Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.
Minimal Model Explanations.Robert W. Batterman & Collin C. Rice - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (3):349-376.

View all 26 references / Add more references