Explaining Causal Selection with Explanatory Causal Economy: Biology and Beyond

In P.-A. Braillard & C. Malaterre (eds.), Explanation in Biology: An Enquiry into the Diversity of Explanatory Patterns in the Life Sciences. Springer. pp. 413-438 (2015)
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Among the factors necessary for the occurrence of some event, which of these are selectively highlighted in its explanation and labeled as causes — and which are explanatorily omitted, or relegated to the status of background conditions? Following J. S. Mill, most have thought that only a pragmatic answer to this question was possible. In this paper I suggest we understand this ‘causal selection problem’ in causal-explanatory terms, and propose that explanatory trade-offs between abstraction and stability can provide a principled solution to it. After sketching that solution, it is applied to a few biological examples, including to a debate concerning the ‘causal democracy’ of organismal development, with an anti-democratic (though not a gene-centric) moral.

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Laura Franklin-Hall
New York University


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