Chapter

A Biologically Disposed Theory of Causation

Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum

in Getting Causes from Powers

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780199695614
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731952 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199695614.003.0010
A Biologically Disposed Theory of Causation

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The aim is for the dispositional theory of causation to be of use to science but also to be scientifically informed. Many theories of causation are designed for physics in particular, perhaps because of a belief that all the other sciences are reducible to physics. However, this can lead to certain key features of causation being neglected, such as complexity and context sensitivity. In taking biology as the chapter's example science, we show how important these notions are. The key features of the chapter's theory are all found exemplified in biology. It invokes powers insofar as genes are characterized dispositionally. It invokes complexity and context-sensitivity and explains production in terms of the passing of thresholds. The possibility of holism and emergentism are taken seriously. Simultaneity is a feature of causation in biology, particularly in genetics. The chapter also finds defeasible prediction and indications that the modality of biological causation is dispositional. As well as reflecting the dispositional theory, the chapter's understanding of biology can be enhanced by it, for instance, in how we understand claims of biological determinism.

Keywords: biology; genetics; dispositions; causation; complexity; context sensitivity

Chapter.  9129 words. 

Subjects: Metaphysics

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