Top-down Causation Without Top-down Causes

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank Kim Sterelny, Kyle Stanford, and an anonymous referee for comments on earlier drafts. An early version of this paper was delivered in two parts at the 2003 Meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology in Vienna, Austria.

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Correspondence to Carl F. Craver.

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Craver, C.F., Bechtel, W. Top-down Causation Without Top-down Causes. Biol Philos 22, 547–563 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10539-006-9028-8

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Keywords

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