Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 675–697 | Cite as

Fighting the good cause: meaning, purpose, difference, and choice

  • David HaigEmail author


Concepts of cause, choice, and information are closely related. A cause is a choice that can be held responsible. It is a difference that makes a difference. Information about past causes and their effects is a valuable commodity because it can be used to guide future choices. Information about criteria of choice is generated by choosing a subset from an ensemble for ‘reasons’ and has meaning for an interpreter when it is used to achieve an end. Natural selection evolves interpreters with ends. Surviving genes embody a textual record of past choices that had favorable outcomes. Consultation of these archives guides current choices. Purposive choice is well-informed difference making.


Final causes Formal causes Information Teleology Recursion Selection Choice Difference Text Interpretation 



Daniel Dennett, Jeffrey Lipshaw, Eric Schliesser, James Simpson, Kim Sterelny, Wenfei Tong, and Adrian Young contributed to the manuscript. Samir Okasha is to blame but the credit is mine. Thanks to the Arnold Arboretum under snow for inspiration and the Colloquium on the Fundamental Interconnectedness of All Things for special effects. Particular thanks to the many unacknowledged influences without whom it would not have been written in quite the way it was. In memory of David Haig (1932–2012).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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