Seminar Topological Explanation: A Statement and Defense

Event date: 13 December 2019, 16:00 – 18:00

Kareem Khalifa (Middlebury College, US) & Daniel Kostic (Université Bordeaux Montaigne & IHPST/Paris 1, FR)

Recent literature on scientific explanation has proposed several alternatives to causal explanations. Topological explanations have emerged as among the most interesting and controversial. Some regard topological explanations as exemplars of noncausal scientific explanation, for, unlike other candidates for noncausal explanation, they are neither contrived toy examples nor restricted to a very narrow range of scientific contexts. However, some are less sanguine about topological explanations. At first blush, topological explanations appear to rely on the time-honored scientific strategy of understanding a system by grasping how its components are related to each other.

Since the best known research programs in this vein are those described by the “new mechanists,” it is perhaps unsurprising that some proponents of this school have argued that topological explanations are explanatory only insofar as they represent mechanisms, frequently highlighting problems that arise when topological models are decoupled from mechanisms. Yet, neither the “topologists” nor their new mechanist critics have offered a sufficiently precise and accurate account of topological explanations that would satisfactorily settle these debates.

In this paper, we present a novel account of topological explanations, and show that it has ample resources for rebutting the new mechanists’ challenges.

Professor Khalifa is professor at the Middlebury College in Vermon (USA). His research interests include the general philosophy of science, philosophy of social science, and epistemology. You can visit his personal website at

The ERC project "Possible Life: The Philosophical Significance of Extending Biology" kindly invites you to Kareem Kalifa's presentation of the work co-authored by Daniel Kostic.

Event location: NIG, Raum B0305, 3. Stock, Universitätsstr. 7, 1010 Wien
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Kareem Khalifa