Synthese 177 (2):213-245 (2010)

Philippe Huneman
University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
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
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11229-010-9842-z
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,464
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation and Scientific Understanding.Michael Friedman - 1974 - Journal of Philosophy 71 (1):5-19.
Explanatory Unification and the Causal Structure of the World.Philip Kitcher - 1989 - In Philip Kitcher & Wesley Salmon (eds.), Scientific Explanation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 410-505.

View all 18 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Minimal Model Explanations.Robert W. Batterman & Collin C. Rice - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (3):349-376.

View all 100 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Non‐Committal Causal Explanations.David Pineda - 2010 - International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 24 (2):147-170.
Causal and Mechanistic Explanations in Ecology.Jani Raerinne - 2011 - Acta Biotheoretica 59 (3):251-271.
Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative.William Bechtel - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
The Nature of Dynamical Explanation.Carlos Zednik - 2011 - Philosophy of Science 78 (2):238-263.
When Functions and Causes Compete.Daniel Heussen - 2010 - Thinking and Reasoning 16 (3):233-250.
A Unificationist Vindication of Moral Explanation.Lei Zhong - 2011 - Philosophical Forum 42 (2):131-146.
Causal Explanations of Behavior.Merrilee H. Salmon - 2003 - Philosophy of Science 70 (4):720-738.


Added to PP index

Total views
172 ( #69,331 of 2,520,752 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
15 ( #52,925 of 2,520,752 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes