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Network explanations and explanatory directionality

Jansson, Lina

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Network explanations raise foundational questions about the nature of scientific explanation. The challenge discussed in this article comes from the fact that network explanations are often thought to be non-causal, i.e. they do not describe the dynamical or mechanistic interactions responsible for some behaviour, instead they appeal to topological properties of network models describing the system. These non-causal features are often thought to be valuable precisely because they do not invoke mechanistic or dynamical interactions and provide insights that are not available through causal explanations. Here, I address a central difficulty facing attempts to move away from causal models of explanation; namely, how to recover the directionality of explanation. Within causal models, the directionality of explanation is identified with the direction of causation. This solution is no longer available once we move to non-causal accounts of explanation. I will suggest a solution to this problem that emphasizes the role of conditions of application. In doing so, I will challenge the idea that sui generis mathematical dependencies are the key to understand non-causal explanations. The upshot is a conceptual account of explanation that accommodates the possibility of non-causal network explanations. It also provides guidance for how to evaluate such explanations. This article is part of the theme issue 'Unifying the essential concepts of biological networks: biological insights and philosophical foundations'.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 17, 2019
Online Publication Date Feb 24, 2020
Publication Date Feb 24, 2020
Deposit Date Oct 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Oct 23, 2019
Journal Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
Print ISSN 0962-8436
Electronic ISSN 1471-2970
Publisher Royal Society, The
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 375
Issue 1796
Article Number 20190318
Keywords General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology; General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Accepted: 2019-10-17; Published: 2020-02-24


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