Causes that make a difference

Journal of Philosophy 104 (11):551-579 (2007)
Biologists studying complex causal systems typically identify some factors as causes and treat other factors as background conditions. For example, when geneticists explain biological phenomena, they often foreground genes and relegate the cellular milieu to the background. But factors in the milieu are as causally necessary as genes for the production of phenotypic traits, even traits at the molecular level such as amino acid sequences. Gene-centered biology has been criticized on the grounds that because there is parity among causes, the “privileging” of genes reflects a reductionist bias, not an ontological difference. The idea that there is an ontological parity among causes is related to a philosophical puzzle identified by John Stuart Mill: what, other than our interests or biases, could possibly justify identifying some causes as the actual or operative ones, and other causes as mere background? The aim of this paper is to solve this conceptual puzzle and to explain why there is not an ontological parity among genes and the other factors. It turns out that solving this puzzle helps answer a seemingly unrelated philosophical question: what kind of causal generality matters in biology?
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI jphil2007104111
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 16,658
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Alan C. Love & Gary L. Lugar (2013). Dimensions of Integration in Interdisciplinary Explanations of the Origin of Evolutionary Novelty. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):537-550.
Russell Powell (2012). Convergent Evolution and the Limits of Natural Selection. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (3):355-373.
Alexander Reutlinger (2012). Getting Rid of Interventions. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (4):787-795.

View all 38 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

159 ( #12,998 of 1,725,949 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

66 ( #18,752 of 1,725,949 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.