Mathematical Explanation In Biology

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Published In

Explanation In Biology: An Enquiry Into The Diversity Of Explanatory Patterns In The Life Sciences

Series Title

History, Philosophy And Theory Of The Life Sciences


Biology has proved to be a rich source of examples in which mathematics plays a role in explaining some physical phenomena. In this paper, two examples from evolutionary biology, one involving periodical cicadas and one involving bee honeycomb, are examined in detail. I discuss the use of such examples to defend platonism about mathematical objects, and then go on to distinguish several different varieties of mathematical explanation in biology. I also connect these discussions to issues concerning generality in biological explanation, and to the question of how to pick out which mathematical properties are explanatorily relevant.


Mathematical explanation, Biology, Indispensability, Optimization

Published By

Springer Netherlands


P.-A. Braillard And C. Malaterre