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Heritability, causal influence and locality

  • Pierrick BourratEmail author


Heritability is routinely interpreted causally. Yet, what such an interpretation amounts to is often unclear. Here, I provide a causal interpretation of this concept in terms of range of causal influence, one of several causal dimensions proposed within the interventionist account of causation. An information-theoretic measure of range of causal influence has recently been put forward in the literature. Starting from this formalization and relying upon Woodward’s analysis, I show that an important problem associated with interpreting heritability causally, namely the locality problem, amounts, at least partly, to a low invariance and low stability between the genotype/environment and the phenotype of individuals. In light of this, I plead for a causal interpretation of heritability that takes the notions of Woodward’s invariance and stability into consideration. In doing so, I defuse naive causal interpretations of heritability.


Heritability Causality Causal specificity Causal influence Locality Invariance Stability 



I am thankful to the Theory and Method in Biosciences group at the University of Sydney for feedback on a previous version of the manuscript. I thank in particular Arnaud Pocheville for discussion and insightful comments, 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).


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacquarie UniversityNorth RydeAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and Charles Perkins CentreThe University of SydneyCamperdownAustralia

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