On Calcott’s permissive and instructive cause distinction
- 174 Downloads
I argue that Calcott (in Biol Philos 32(4):481–505, Calcott 2017) mischaracterizes in an important way the notion of causal specificity proposed by Woodward (in Biol Philos 25(3):287–318, Woodward 2010). This leads him to (1) rely too heavily on one single aspect of Woodward’s analysis on causal specificity; (2) propose an information-theoretic measure he calls ‘precision’ which is partly redundant with, but less general than one of the dimensions in Woodward’s analysis of specificity, without acknowledging Woodward’s analysis; and (3) claim that comparing the specificities of two or more causes under what he calls a competitive analysis of causes, does not permit to capture the distinction between permissive and instructive causes. After having restated Woodward’s analysis of causal specificity, I present an information-theoretic measure (variation of causal information) which, although related to Calcott’s measure, is more general than his and corresponds to the notion of specificity he missed in Woodward's analysis. I then show how this measure can be used, together with mutual causal information (which captures another dimension of specificity in Woodward’s analysis), to distinguish permissive from instructive causes in a competitive analysis of causes.
KeywordsCausation Interventionist account Causal specificity Information theory Mutual information Variation of information
I am thankful to the Theory and Method in Biosciences group at the University of Sydney, two anonymous reviewers, Kate Lynch, and Michael Weisberg who provided useful feedback on previous versions of this manuscript. I am more particularly thankful to Arnaud Pocheville who introduced me to information theory and discussed it at length with me, and Stefan Gawronski who proofread the final manuscript. This research was supported by a Macquarie University Research Fellowship and a Large Grant from the John Templeton Foundation (Grant ID 60811).
- Bourrat P (2019) Variation of information as a measure of one-to-one causal specificity. Eur J Philos Sci. 9:11. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13194-018-0224-6
- Franklin-Hall LR (2015) Explaining causal selection with explanatory causal economy: biology and beyond. In: Braillard PA, Malaterre C (eds) Explanation in biology, history, philosophy and theory of the life sciences. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 413–438Google Scholar
- Gilbert SF (2010) Developmental biology. Sinauer Associates, SunderlandGoogle Scholar
- Holtzer H (1968) Induction of chondrogenesis: a concept in terms of mechanisms. In: Flieschmajer R, Billingham M (eds) Epithelial-mesenchymal interactions. William and Wilkins, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
- Lemmon V, Burden SM, Payne HR, Elmslie GJ, Hlavin ML (1992) Neurite growth on different substrates: permissive versus instructive influences and the role of adhesive strength. J Neurosci 12(3):818–826. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.12-03-00818.1992 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Pocheville A, Griffiths PE, Stotz K (2017) Comparing causes—an information-theoretic approach to specificity, proportionality and stability. In: Leitgeb H, Niiniluoto I, Sober E, Seppälä P (eds) Proceedings of the 15th congress of logic, methodology and philosophy of science, College Publications, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Schaffer J (2016) The metaphysics of causation. In: Zalta EN (ed) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, fall 2016 edn, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2016/entries/causation-metaphysics/
- Weber M (2006) The central dogma as a thesis of causal specificity. Hist Philos Life Sci 28(4):595–609Google Scholar
- Weber M (in press) In: Kenneth Waters C, James W (eds) Philosophical perspectives on causal reasoning in biology. Minnesota studies in philosophy of science, vol XXI. University of Minnesota Press, MinneapolisGoogle Scholar
- Woodward J (2003) Making things happen: a theory of causal explanation. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar