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Chapter 8
A Mode of ‘Epi-Thinking’ Leads to the Exploration of Vagueness and Finality
S.N. Salthe
I have recently been working with a form of one of Hempel’s (1962) two modes of
explanation: the subsumption of phenomena under a covering law model. The form in
question is the subsumption – or equivalently, specification – hierarchy (Salthe, 2012), thus,
for example:
{class of more general universals {{{nested subclasses of more definite
The form here is that of a tree, branching into particulars in the subclasses to the right.
However, many examples, as in the subsumption process, need follow only one branch. So
we can explain, for instance, heat energy production during effective work as resulting from
the rule of the Second Law of thermodynamics (on the assumption that we are in an isolated
universe). The procedure in this usage is to move logically from a particular in need of
explanation to a more general phenomenon. In this example:
{heat energy production
{utilization of free energy
{work}}} on the template:
{physical world {material/chemical world {biological world}}}
{more generally present in the universe {more particular phenomena}}
Using Boolean subsetting logic (Ellerman, 2009), the biological world is here viewed as a
particular kind of chemical world, which is in turn taken to be one kind of physical world.
Work is a particular mediation of chemical transactions, which are one pathway to heat
energy production. Then, reading the other way, we can postulate causal connections,
because the chemical world depends on physical actions, while the biological world depends
on chemical interactions. It is this “going the other way” with which I will be concerned in
this chapter.
Nothing can come from, or evolve out of, a generalization. Thinking of how a general
explanation – here, the Second Law – could have an effect as a causal power, we need to alter
our perspective on it so that we can move in the opposite direction from explanation,
following in this way an unfolding of some effects of that law.
In the example above, the Second Law needs an embodiment that would be operative
causally anywhere. I venture:
energy gradients are all intrinsically unstable, and tend to