Robustness and Modularity

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Functional robustness refers to a system’s ability to maintain a function in the face of perturbations to the causal structures that support performance of that function. Modularity, a crucial element of standard methods of causal inference and difference-making accounts of causation, refers to the independent manipulability of causal relationships within a system. Functional robustness appears to be at odds with modularity. If a function is maintained despite manipulation of some causal structure that supports that function, then the relationship between that structure and function fails to be manipulable independent of other causal relationships within the system. Contrary to this line of reasoning, I argue that functional robustness often attends feedback control, rather than failures of modularity. Feedback control poses its own challenges to causal explanation and inference, but those challenges do not undermine modularity—and indeed, modularity is crucial to grappling with them.
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Archival date: 2021-10-08
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