A wide range of gene knockout experiments shows that functional stability is an important feature of biological systems. On this backdrop, we present an argument for higher‐level causation based on counterfactual dependence. Furthermore, we sketch a metaphysical picture providing resources to explain the metaphysical nature of functional stability, higher‐level causation, and the relevant notion of levels. Our account aims to clarify the role empirical results and philosophical assumptions should play in debates about reductionism and higher‐level causation. It thereby contributes to (...) the development of a philosophical foundation for systems biology. †To contact the authors, please write to: CSMN/IFIKK, University of Oslo, Box 1020 Blindern, N‐0315, Oslo, Norway; e‐mail: [email protected] , [email protected]. (shrink)
Causal selection and priority are at the heart of discussions of the causal parity thesis, which says that all causes of a given effect are on a par, and that any justified priority assigned to a given cause results from causal explanatory interests. In theories of causation that provide necessary and sufficient conditions for the truth of causal claims, status as cause is an either/or issue: either a given cause satisfies the conditions or it does not. Consequently, assessments of causal (...) parity and priority require more resources, which can either be additional or part of the causal analysis itself. While adding resources in terms of a theory of causal explanation has been standard, here we develop a unified conceptual analysis that includes a range of different precise causal concepts that allows for assessments of causal priority in terms of different kinds of causal relevance. (shrink)
Understanding how individual agency and group agency relate is of great importance for a range of philosophical and practical concerns, including responsibility ascription and institutional design. This article discusses the relation between corporate and individual responsibility in agency—in particular, the relation between corporate and individual control of actions. First, I criticize Christian List and Philip Pettit’s causal account of combined corporate and individual control. Second, I develop an alternative account in terms of structural control, and I show how this gives (...) a better grasp of the issue. Third, I argue for an act-dualism that complements my account of control and sheds further light on the relation between corporate and individual agency and responsibility. (shrink)
Kerry et al. criticize our discussion of causal knowledge in evidence-based medicine (EBM) and our assessment of the relevance of their dispositionalist ontology for EBM. Three issues need to be addressed in response: (1) problems concerning transfer of causal knowledge across heterogeneous contexts; (2) how predictions about the effects of individual treatments based on population-level evidence from RCTs are fallible; and (3) the relevance of ontological theories like dispositionalism for EBM.
In many biological experiments, due to gene-redundancy or distributed backup mechanisms, there are no visible effects on the functionality of the organism when a gene is knocked out or down. In such cases there is apparently no counterfactual dependence between the gene and the phenotype in question, although intuitively the gene is causally relevant. Due to relativity of causal relations to causal models, we suggest that such cases can be handled by changing the resolution of the causal model that represents (...) the system. By decreasing the resolution of our causal model, counterfactual dependencies can be established at a higher level of abstraction. By increasing the resolution, stepwise causal dependencies of the right kind can serve as a sufficient condition for causal relevance. Finally, we discuss how introducing a temporal dimension in causal models can account for causation in cases of non-modular systems dynamics. (shrink)
Causal overdetermination, the existence of more than one sufficient cause for an effect, is standardly regarded as unacceptable among philosophers of mental causation. Philosophers of mind, both proponents of causal exclusion arguments and defenders of non-reductive physicalism, seem generally displeased with the idea of mental causes merely overdetermining their already physically determined effects. However, as I point out below, overdetermination is widespread in the broadly physical domain. Many of these cases are due to what I call the preservation of causal (...) sufficiency. We need therefore to be precise about what unacceptable overdetermination amounts to in order to evaluate the prospects for a non-reductive account of mental causation. I argue that in order to have a good understanding of unacceptable overdetermination we should appeal to the notion of a minimal sufficient cause. In brief, a sufficient cause is minimal if it is sufficient to bring about the effect, but not more than sufficient. One way a cause could be more than sufficient for an effect is if its existence necessitates the existence of another (simultaneous) cause that is also sufficient for the same effect. In the second half of the paper I use this revised understanding of unacceptable causal overdetermination to show that the validity of the causal exclusion argument depends on strong readings of the principle of the causal self-sufficiency of physics. These strong readings can reasonably be questioned by a believer in non-reductive accounts of mental causation. This puts the burden of argument back on the causal exclusionist. (shrink)
In his latest book Physicalism, or Something near Enough, Jaegwon Kim argues that his version of functional reductionism is the most promising way for saving mental causation. I argue, on the other hand, that there is an internal tension in his position: Functional reductionism does not save mental causation if Kim’s own supervenience argument is sound. My line of reasoning has the following steps: (1) I discuss the supervenience argument and I explain how it motivates Kim’s functional reductionism; (2) I (...) present what I call immense multiple realization, which says that macro-properties are immensely multiply realized in determinate micro-based properties; (3) on that background I argue that functional reductionism leads to a specified kind of irrealism for mental properties. Assuming that such irrealism is part of Kim’s view, which Kim himself seems to acknowledge, I argue that Kim’s position gets the counterfactual dependencies between macro-causal relata wrong. Consequently, his position does not give a conservative account of mental causation. I end the paper by discussing some alternative moves that Kim seems to find viable in his latest book. I argue on the assumption that the supervenience argument is sound, so the discussion provides further reasons to critically reevaluate that argument because it generalizes in deeply problematic ways. (shrink)
The NANOCAN project aims to enhance our understanding of the behavior of nanomaterials in the body, focusing on biodegradable nanoparticles for cancer diagnostics, and targeted cancer drug delivery. There is a range of available and potentially useful nanoparticles and drugs that might be of interest to such a project. In this paper, we make values implied in—and relevant to—choices between these alternatives explicit, thereby offering a case study of how values enter research processes in this area. From a project centered (...) perspective, we observe that values often play their role implicitly, as a result of funding incentives, regulations, and structural and organizational features of the research process. Based on our observations and categorization of relevant values, we turn to a broader discussion of how responsible research and innovation can be facilitated by making value priorities, value conflicts, and biases explicit targets of normative assessment. (shrink)