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Explanation in Biology

An Enquiry into the Diversity of Explanatory Patterns in the Life Sciences

  • Book
  • © 2015


  • Comprehensive overview of explanation types in biology and their relationship
  • Contains case study of explanation in complex biochemical networks as diabetes
  • Describes the influence of engineering explanation models in life science

Part of the book series: History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences (HPTL, volume 11)

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About this book

Patterns of explanation in biology have long been recognized as different from those deployed in other scientific disciplines, especially that of physics. Celebrating the diversity of interpretative models found in biology, this volume details their varying types as well as explaining their relationships to one another. It covers the key differentials with other sciences in the nature of explanation, such as the existence in biology of varieties unheard of in the physical sciences, such as teleological, evolutionary and even functional explanations.

Offering a wealth of fresh analysis of the phenomenon, chapters examine aspects ranging from the role of mathematics in explaining cell development to the complexities thrown up by evolutionary-developmental biology, where explanation is altered by multidisciplinarity itself. They cover major domains such as ecology and systems biology, as well as contemporary trends, such as the mechanistic explanations spawned by progress in molecular biology. With contributions from researchers of many different nationalities, the book provides a many-angled perspective on a revealing feature of the discipline of biology.

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Table of contents (18 chapters)

  1. The Role of Mathematics in Biological Explanations

  2. The Role of Heuristics in Biological Explanations


“Explanation in biology is a venture into the diversity of explanatory patterns in biology, which also explores the scope and limitations of mechanistic explanations. … Explanation in biology takes many important steps in this direction, and I expect this volume to set the stage for many future discussions of what it means to explain and understand biological systems in the 21st century.” (Sara Green, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, March, 2016)

“Explanation in Biology … is a welcome contribution to the growing literature on the diversity of explanatory practices in biology. … The intended audience is primarily professional philosophers, or biologists with a philosophical bent. … I would recommend this volume for any relatively scientific literate readers interested simply in gaining familiarity with some of the best recent work in systems biology, graph theory and network theory, cell and molecular biology, neuroscience, stem cell biology, genetics, and genomics.” (Anya Plutynski, Science and Education, Vol. 25, 2016)

Authors and Affiliations

  • Independant Scholar, Peyregrand, Drulhe, France

    Pierre-Alain Braillard

  • Département de philosophie & CIRST, Chaire de recherche UQAM en Philosophie des sciences, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Montréal, Canada

    Christophe Malaterre

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