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Causal selection in context: explaining gene centrism

Farrell, Margaret (2023) Causal selection in context: explaining gene centrism. [Preprint]

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There are two problems in the history and philosophy of genetics that seem to be related, but it is not yet clear just what that relationship is. One is the problem of causal selection, and the other is justifying gene centrism – the general approach of seeking genetic explanations. I argue that to understand the relationship between the two, we must consider explanatory targets far causally downstream from DNA. Philosophers have identified causal specificity as an intrinsic feature of genetic causes that makes them explanatorily relevant for very close downstream targets in the cellular environment of DNA. But when explaining targets far downstream, biologists sometimes select as explanatory causes that are genetic but not specific, and other times select causes that are specific but not genetic. This observation detaches causal specificity from causal selection, and in turn, from gene centrism. I argue further that specificity cannot justify gene centrism in virtue of its contribution to the utility of genes as tools. I propose instead that the persistence and scope of genetics is better explained by a variety of historical factors. My analysis illuminates two conclusions: first, the success of genetics is what explains the prevalence of specificity as a criterion of causal selection, and not vice versa as philosophers have previously argued. And second, the objective and pragmatic dimensions of causal selection are interdependent.

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Item Type: Preprint
Farrell, Margaretmargaret.farrell@uci.edu0000-0003-1281-889X
Keywords: Causal selection, genetics, causal explanation, gene centrism
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > Explanation
Depositing User: Margaret Farrell
Date Deposited: 16 Aug 2023 14:07
Last Modified: 16 Aug 2023 14:07
Item ID: 22416
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
General Issues > Explanation
Date: 12 June 2023

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