From heritability to probability

Biology and Philosophy 24 (1):81-105 (2009)
Can a heritability value tell us something about the weight of genetic versus environmental causes that have acted in the development of a particular individual? Two possible questions arise. Q1: what portion of the phenotype of X is due to its genes and what portion to its environment? Q2: what portion of X’s phenotypic deviation from the mean is a result of its genetic deviation and what portion a result of its environmental deviation? An answer to Q1 provides the full information about X’s development, while an answer to Q2 leaves out a large portion unexplained—that portion which corresponds to the phenotypic mean. Q1 is unanswerable, but I show it is nevertheless legitimate under certain quantitative genetics models. With regard to Q2, opinions in the philosophical and biological literature differ as to its legitimacy. I argue that not only is it legitimate, but in particular, under a few simplifying assumptions, it allows for a quantitative probabilistic answer: for normally distributed quantitative traits with no G-E correlation or statistical G × E interaction, we can assess the probability that X’s genes had a greater effect than its environment on its deviation from the mean population value. This probability is expressed as a function the heritability and the individual’s phenotypic value; we can also provide a quantitative probabilistic answer to Q2 for an arbitrary individual where the probability is a function only of heritability.
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    References found in this work BETA
    Christopher H. Pearson (2007). Is Heritability Explanatorily Useful? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 38 (1):270-288.
    Elliott Sober (1988). Apportioning Causal Responsibility. Journal of Philosophy 85 (6):303 - 318.
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