The Dispositional Genome: Primus Inter Pares

Biology and Philosophy 30 (2):227-246 (2015)
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Abstract

According to the proponents of Developmental Systems Theory and the Causal Parity Thesis, the privileging of the genome as “first among equals” with respect to the development of phenotypic traits is more a reflection of our own heuristic prejudice than of ontology - the underlying causal structures responsible for that specified development no more single out the genome as primary than they do other broadly “environmental” factors. Parting with the methodology of the popular responses to the Thesis, this paper offers a novel criterion for ‘causal primacy’, one that is grounded in the ontology of the unique causal role of dispositional properties. This paper argues that, if the genome is conceptualised as realising dispositional properties that are “directed toward” phenotypic traits, the parity of ‘causal roles’ between genetic and extra-genetic factors is no longer apparent, and further, that the causal primacy of the genome is both plausible and defensible.

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Christopher J. Austin
Durham University

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