Mechanism, Emergence, and Miscibility: The Autonomy of Evo-Devo

  • Denis M. Walsh
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 363)


Evolutionary developmental biology shows us that the capacities of organisms play an indispensable role in the explanation of adaptive evolution. In particular, the goal-directed properties of organisms figure in a class of emergent teleological explanations. The role of emergent teleology has heretofore gone ­unnoticed largely because of modern biology’s methodological commitment to mechanism. I outline and defend an alternative to mechanism: explanatory emergence. According to explanatory emergence, every phenomenon has a complete mechanistic explanation, yet some phenomena also have emergent teleological explanations. Mechanistic and emergent teleological explanations of the same ­phenomena are complete, complementary and autonomous. I call this relation ‘­miscibility’. I argue that the miscibility of explanations illuminates the distinctive character of recent evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). Evo-devo offers a class of emergent explanations that advert to the unique capacities of organisms.


Mechanistic Explanation Adaptive Evolution Emergent Property Causal Power Myosin Head 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I wish to thank audiences in Calgary, Edmonton, Vienna and Paris. In particular, I wish to thank Marc Ereshefsky, Fermin Fulda, Jesse Hendrikse, Philippe Huneman Gerd Muller, and Jacob Stegenga for helpful discussion. The bulk of this chapter was written while I was a visiting fellow at the Konrad Lorenz Institute. I thank all at the KLI for their marvellous hospitality.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Denis M. Walsh
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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