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Adrian Boutel (LSE): “Can selection save the special sciences?”

14 November 2017, 2:00 pm3:30 pm

Abstract: David Papineau (2009) has posed a dilemma for the Fodorian picture of causal laws in the special sciences, involving multiply-realised causes and effects. If the causes are genuinely physically diverse, then their production of a common effect is coincidental; but if they share relevant physical features, it is reducible. Papineau acknowledges that selection offers an answer to this puzzle: it is no coincidence to find physically distinct mechanisms producing a common outcome, where that outcome has been selected for. But he takes little consolation. He denies that selection yields high-level causation: causes are members of the selected kind because they produce the selected outcome, not vice versa. And any other common effects the selectees may have remain coincidental. So there is not very much for a science of the multiply-realised to do.

I wonder whether even that small consolation can be taken. For selection itself appears to be a high-level causal process in the sense Papineau is targeting. It, too, produces common results from diverse low-level inputs. If this is right, and Papineau’s argument is good, then we should be even more disillusioned than Papineau about laws in the special sciences. On the other hand, if we wish to keep selection, and so even the small amount of consolation Papineau allows, we must find a way to avoid the coincidence problem; and then we can have quite a lot of consolation indeed.

Adrian Boutel is a guest teacher here in the Department, he was formerly a Research Associate in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge.




14 November 2017
2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Event Category:


Philosophy, Logic & Scientific Method


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Lakatos Building
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