Making Sense of Downward Causation in Manipulationism (with illustrations from cancer research)

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences (33):537-562 (2011)
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Many researchers consider cancer to have molecular causes, namely mutated genes that result in abnormal cell proliferation (e.g. Weinberg 1998). For others, the causes of cancer are to be found not at the molecular level but at the tissue level where carcinogenesis consists of disrupted tissue organization with downward causation effects on cells and cellular components (e.g. Sonnenschein and Soto 2008). In this contribution, I ponder how to make sense of such downward causation claims. Adopting a manipulationist account of causation (Woodward 2003), I propose a formal definition of downward causation and discuss further requirements (in light of Baumgartner 2009). I then show that such an account cannot be mobilized in support of non-reductive physicalism (contrary to Raatikainen 2010). However, I also argue that such downward causation claims might point at particularly interesting dynamic properties of causal relationships that might prove salient in characterizing causal relationships (following Woodward 2010).

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Christophe Malaterre
Université du Québec à Montreal


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