Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 547-563

First online:

Top-down Causation Without Top-down Causes

  • Carl F. CraverAffiliated withPhilosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, Washington University Email author 
  • , William BechtelAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy-0119, University of California

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We argue that intelligible appeals to interlevel causes (top-down and bottom-up) can be understood, without remainder, as appeals to mechanistically mediated effects. Mechanistically mediated effects are hybrids of causal and constitutive relations, where the causal relations are exclusively intralevel. The idea of causation would have to stretch to the breaking point to accommodate interlevel causes. The notion of a mechanistically mediated effect is preferable because it can do all of the required work without appealing to mysterious interlevel causes. When interlevel causes can be translated into mechanistically mediated effects, the posited relationship is intelligible and should raise no special philosophical objections. When they cannot, they are suspect.


Levels Mechanisms Top-down causation Interlevel causation Constitution Explanation Emergence Reduction