In this paper, I present a general theory of topological explanations, and illustrate its fruitfulness by showing how it accounts for explanatory asymmetry. My argument is developed in three steps. In the first step, I show what it is for some topological property A to explain some physical or dynamical property B . Based on that, I derive three key criteria of successful topological explanations: a criterion concerning the facticity of topological explanations, i.e. what makes it true of a particular system; a criterion for describing counterfactual dependencies in two explanatory modes, i.e. the vertical and the horizontal and, finally, a third perspectival one that tells us when to use the vertical and when to use the horizontal mode. In the second step, I show how this general theory of topological explanations accounts for explanatory asymmetry in both the vertical and horizontal explanatory modes. Finally, in the third step, I argue that this theory is universally applicable across biological sciences, which helps in unifying essential concepts of biological networks. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Unifying the essential concepts of biological networks: biological insights and philosophical foundations’.
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