Causes That Make a Difference

Journal of Philosophy 104 (11):551-579 (2007)

Abstract

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?

Download options

PhilArchive



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 72,805

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Analytics

Added to PP
2009-01-28

Downloads
315 (#34,698)

6 months
8 (#90,238)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

C. Kenneth Waters
University of Calgary

References found in this work

Causation as Influence.David K. Lewis - 2000 - Journal of Philosophy 97 (4):182-197.
Causation as a Secondary Quality.Peter Menzies & Huw Price - 1993 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (2):187-203.
From Covariation to Causation: A Causal Power Theory.Patricia W. Cheng - 1997 - Psychological Review 104 (2):367-405.
Genetic Traits.Fred Gifford - 1990 - Biology and Philosophy 5 (3):327-347.

Add more references

Similar books and articles

The Puzzle of Petitionary Prayer.Daniel Howard-Snyder & Frances Howard-Snyder - 2010 - European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 2 (2):43-68.
Women and Sacrifice in Classical Greece.Robin Osborne - 1993 - Classical Quarterly 43 (02):392-.
Asking Too Much.Garrett Cullity - 2003 - The Monist 86 (3):402 - 418.
What Differences Make a Difference?Erik Parens - 1998 - Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 7 (1):1-6.
Making a Difference.Pamela Hieronymi - 2011 - Social Theory and Practice 37 (1):81-94.
Is Actual Difference Making Actually Different?Robert Northcott - 2009 - Journal of Philosophy 106 (11):629-633.
The Moral Significance of Birth.Mary Anne Warren - 1989 - Hypatia 4 (3):46 - 65.
Difference Making, Explanatory Relevance, and Mechanistic Models.Dingmar van Eck & Raoul Gervais - 2016 - Theoria: Revista de Teoría, Historia y Fundamentos de la Ciencia 31 (1):125-134.
Heidegger and Ontological Difference.Loy M. Vail - 1972 - University Park, Pennsylvania State University Press.
A Difference That May Make No Difference.Peter H. Wolff - 1980 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (2):250-251.