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Causation and Metaphysics in Biology

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I argue here that the debate over the causal status of natural selection, genetic drift, and fitness has foundered on an unrecognized issue in the metaphysics of science. It relies on a solution to what I will call "the composition question" – defining the circumstances in which micro-level causes compose to produce a macro-level causal process. Further, evolutionary biology constitutes a particularly poor environment in which to study this general question regarding causation. I thus claim that this is a place where we must foster engagement between philosophers of biology and metaphysicians of science.

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Causation and Metaphysics in Biology

  1. 1. Causation and Metaphysiscs in Bio KU Leuven CLPS, 7.12.2018 Charles H. Pence @pencechp
  2. 2. Outline 1. Causation in evolution by natural selection 2. Signs of a metaphysics of science debate 3. A core metaphysical question: casual composition 4. Connecting metaphysics of science to philosophy of science – in search of a dialectic? The take-home: It’s high time to foster healthy collaboration between metaphysicians of science and philosophers of biology. Charles H. Pence 2 / 33
  3. 3. Generalization Warning Charles H. Pence 3 / 33
  4. 4. Causation in Evolution Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 4 / 33
  5. 5. What is Evolutionary Fitness? How should we understand the property of fitness in evolving systems? What is it a property of, and is it a causal property? Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 5 / 33
  6. 6. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 6 / 33
  7. 7. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 6 / 33
  8. 8. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 6 / 33
  9. 9. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 6 / 33
  10. 10. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 6 / 33
  11. 11. What is Evolutionary Fitness? Fitness as a property of: genes or traits individual organisms groups populations And at each level, either causal or non-causal. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 7 / 33
  12. 12. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 8 / 33
  13. 13. Causation in Evolution Where is the causal action in evolutionary theory? Are natural selection, genetic drift, and other components of the evolutionary process causal? If not, what are they? Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 9 / 33
  14. 14. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 10 / 33
  15. 15. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 10 / 33
  16. 16. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 10 / 33
  17. 17. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 10 / 33
  18. 18. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 10 / 33
  19. 19. Causation in Evolution causalism: At least some of the “factors” of evolution, like natural selection and genetic drift, are causal. statisticalism: Those processes are merely epiphenomenal, tallied for theoretical convenience; the only truly causal events occur in the lives of individual organisms. Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 11 / 33
  20. 20. Well, how did I get here? Charles H. Pence Causation in Evolution 12 / 33
  21. 21. A Metaphysics Debate? Charles H. Pence A Metaphysics Debate? 13 / 33
  22. 22. The Arguments Causal efficacy of a “sorting” process Subdividing series of coin tosses Lack of “selection” in outcomes of a biased coin Charles H. Pence A Metaphysics Debate? 14 / 33
  23. 23. The Arguments apple carts Newtonian gravitation centers of mass pharaoh’s laborers scatter plots smoking heart disease painkillers race cars coin flips Charles H. Pence A Metaphysics Debate? 15 / 33
  24. 24. Where did the biology go? Charles H. Pence A Metaphysics Debate? 16 / 33
  25. 25. A Metaphysical Problem Charles H. Pence A Metaphysical Problem 17 / 33
  26. 26. What’s a Causal Process? Setting aside for the sake of time: It’s not clear that all parties to the debate agree about the definition of a causal process. Charles H. Pence A Metaphysical Problem 18 / 33
  27. 27. Supervenience and Multi-Level Causation t0 t1 t2 A B H(CC) M(X) Y? M(X) Y? H(MSB(X)) after figure 5, Shapiro and Sober (2007) Charles H. Pence A Metaphysical Problem 19 / 33
  28. 28. Causal Composition When do causes operating at a lower level compose to form a causal process operating at a higher level? Charles H. Pence A Metaphysical Problem 20 / 33
  29. 29. Causal Composition A paradigmatic metaphysics of science question. Where and how has it been dealt with in the literature? Charles H. Pence A Metaphysical Problem 21 / 33
  30. 30. Making Connections Charles H. Pence Making Connections 22 / 33
  31. 31. This is hard! Biology is exceptionally messy. So what do we do? So far, authors tend to either: 1. produce simplified cases to “read off” the metaphysics from the biology, or 2. turn to detailed examples extracted from biological practice. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 23 / 33
  32. 32. “Reading Off” Attempts to infer from simplified biological cases to metaphysical conclusions usually 1. smuggle in metaphysical assumptions (e.g., definition of a causal process, theory of causation), and/or 2. evaluate a highly limited array of metaphysical options. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 24 / 33
  33. 33. “Reading Off” Not surprising! Biological cases are just too complex to have an “intuitive” metaphysical reading. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 25 / 33
  34. 34. “Reading Off” Not surprising! Biological cases are just too complex to have an “intuitive” metaphysical reading. We’re likely just to amplify preexisting hunches. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 25 / 33
  35. 35. Biological Examples A number of great biological case studies have been deployed. Why hasn’t this worked? Charles H. Pence Making Connections 26 / 33
  36. 36. In Search of a Dialectic Common practice elsewhere in philosophy of science: Movement back and forth, from metaphysical positions, to simplified scientific cases, to complex scientific cases. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 27 / 33
  37. 37. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  38. 38. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  39. 39. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  40. 40. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  41. 41. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  42. 42. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  43. 43. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 28 / 33
  44. 44. In Search of a Dialectic Common practice elsewhere in philosophy of science: Movement back and forth, from metaphysical positions, to simplified scientific cases, to complex scientific cases. Almost entirely absent from the philosophy of biology. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 29 / 33
  45. 45. An Appeal 1. Let’s recognize that we’re actually doing metaphysics of science! Charles H. Pence Making Connections 30 / 33
  46. 46. An Appeal 1. Let’s recognize that we’re actually doing metaphysics of science! It’s okay to admit it. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 30 / 33
  47. 47. An Appeal 2. Let’s go do good metaphysics of science! Charles H. Pence Making Connections 31 / 33
  48. 48. An Appeal 2. Let’s go do good metaphysics of science! Where does the general question of causal composition crop up in other sciences? What metaphysical tools can we bring to bear to try to solve it? Charles H. Pence Making Connections 31 / 33
  49. 49. An Appeal 3. Let’s find other places in philosophy of biology where the same thing might be happening. Charles H. Pence Making Connections 32 / 33
  50. 50. An Appeal 3. Let’s find other places in philosophy of biology where the same thing might be happening. Species? Probability/chance? Charles H. Pence Making Connections 32 / 33
  51. 51. Questions? charles@charlespence.net https://charlespence.net @pencechp

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