Logic & Philosophy of Science Colloquium
C. Kenneth Waters
Department of Philosophy
Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science
University of Minnesota
"Causes That Make a Difference"
Biologists studying complex causal systems typically identify some
factors as the causes and treat other factors as background conditions.
When geneticists explain biological phenomena, they often foreground
genes as causes and the cellular milieu as 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 ontological parity among causes, the privileging of
genes reflects a reductionist bias, not an objective 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 or
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. It turns out that
solving this puzzle helps answer a seemingly unrelated philosophical
question: what kind of causal generality matters in biology?
Friday, May 18, 2007
Refreshments will be served