, Volume 192, Issue 11, pp 3731–3755 | Cite as

Why there isn’t inter-level causation in mechanisms



The experimental interventions that provide evidence of causal relations are notably similar to those that provide evidence of constitutive relevance relations. In the first two sections, I show that this similarity creates a tension: there is an inconsistent triad between (1) Woodward’s popular interventionist theory of causation, (2) Craver’s mutual manipulability account of constitutive relevance in mechanisms, and a variety of arguments for (3) the incoherence of inter-level causation. I argue for an interpretation of the views in which the tension is merely apparent. I propose to explain inter-level relations without inter-level causation by appealing to the notion of fat-handed interventions, and an argument against inter-level causation which dissolves the problem.


Mechanisms Mutual manipulability Interventionism  Inter-level causation 


  1. Baumgartner, M. (2009). Interventionist causal exclusion and non-reductive physicalism. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 23(2), 161–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bechtel, W. (2011). Mechanism and biological explanation. Philosophy of Science, 78(4), 533–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bruce, V., & Young, A. (1986). Understanding face recognition. British Journal of Psychology, 77(Pt 3), 305–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Couch, M. B. (2011). Mechanisms and constitutive relevance. Synthese, 183(3), 375–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Craver, C. F. (2007). Explaining the brain: Mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience. Oxford: Clarendon Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Craver, C. F., & Bechtel, W. (2007). Top-down causation without top-down causes. Biology and Philosophy, 22(4), 547–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., & Van Hoesen, G. W. (1982). Prosopagnosia. Neurology, 32(4), 331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Eberhardt, F., & Scheines, R. (2007). Interventions and causal inference. Philosophy of Science, 74(5), 981–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Fagan, M. B. (2012). The joint account of mechanistic explanation. Philosophy of Science, 79(4), 448–472.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Franklin-Hall, L. R. (2014). High-Level Explanation and the Interventionist’s ‘Variables Problem’. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.Google Scholar
  11. Glennan, S. (1996). Mechanisms and the nature of causation. Erkenntnis, 44(1), 49–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glennan, S. (2009). Mechanisms. In H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock, & P. Menzies (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of causation (pp. 313–325). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Harinen, T. (2014). Mutual Manipulability and Causal Inbetweenness. Synthese, 1–20.Google Scholar
  14. Haugeland, J. (1998). Having thought: essays in the metaphysics of mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Heil, J. (2003). From an ontological point of view. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ishai, A., Schmidt, C. F., & Boesiger, P. (2005). Face perception is mediated by a distributed cortical network. Brain Research Bulletin, 67(1–2), 87–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kim, J. (1989). Mechanism, purpose, and explanatory exclusion. Philosophical Perspectives, 3, 77–108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kim, J. (1999). Making sense of emergence. Philosophical Studies, 95(1–2), 3–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Leuridan, B. (2012). Three problems for the mutual manipulability account of constitutive relevance in mechanisms. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 63(2), 399–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Levy, A. (2013). Three kinds of new mechanism. Biology and Philosophy, 28(1), 99–114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Machamer, P. K., Darden, L., & Craver, C. F. (2000). Thinking about mechanisms. Philosophy Of Science, 67(1), 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Meng, M., Cherian, T., Singal, G., & Sinha, P. (2012). Lateralization of face processing in the human brain. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences., 279(1735), 2052–2061.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Pearl, J. (2000). Causality: Models, reasoning, and inference. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Raatikainen, P. (2010). Causation, exclusion, and the special sciences. Erkenntnis, 73(3), 349–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Schaffer, J. (2012). Grounding, transitivity, and contrastivity. In F. Correia & B. Schnieder (Eds.), Grounding and explanation (pp. 128–138). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Semmelweis, I. (1983). The etiology, concept, and prophylaxis of childbed fever. (K. C. Carter, Trans.). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  27. Sperry, R. W. (1980). Mind–brain interaction: Mentalism yes, dualism no. Neuroscience, 5(2), 195–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tsao, D. Y., Freiwald, W. A., Tootell, R. B., & Livingstone, M. S. (2006). A cortical region consisting entirely of face-selective cells. Science, 311(5761), 670–674.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Waskan, J. (2011). Mechanistic explanation at the limit. Synthese, 183(3), 389–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Woodward, J. (2003). Making things happen: A theory of causal explanations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Woodward, J. (2004). Counterfactuals and causal explanation. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 18(1), 41–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Woodward, J. (2008a). Invariance, modularity, and all that. In S. Hartman, C. Hoefer, & L. Bovens (Eds.), Nancy Cartwright’s philosophy of science (pp. 198–237). New York: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  33. Woodward, J. (2008b). Mental causation and neural mechanisms. In J. Howhy & J. Kallestrup (Eds.), Being reduced: New essays on reduction, explanation, and causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Woodward, J. (2011). Mechanisms revisited. Synthese, 183(3), 409–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Woodward, J. (2014). Interventionism and causal exclusion. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 58(1), 1–45.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, Department of PhilosophyWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations