30 September– 2 October 2015

Workshop #4: Downwards Causation in the Biological and Social Sciences

to be held at Hatfield College, Durham University


Methodological/ontological individualism teaches that the behaviour of systems is fixed by the behaviour of the parts that make them up, by ordinary ‘upwards’ causal relations. This venerable and popular doctrine has never been uncontroversial, but recent work in the philosophy of science offers new challenges to it, especially in biology and in the social sciences. Mechanistic explanation is currently a central focus in philosophy of biology, a mechanism being a (usually) complicated arrangement of parts whose interactions give rise to causal relations constraining behaviour at a lower level. Or consider game theory in the study of society. Although the theory aims to explain social phenomena (e.g. socially suboptimal outcomes) by the rational behaviour of individuals, the explanations assume individual behaviour to be constrained by the rules of the game, which are features not of individuals but of the system. Are these cases of downward causation?


Confirmed Participants

John Bothwell (Durham University)

David Byrne (Durham University)

Nancy Cartwright (Durham University)

John Dupré (University of Exeter)

Marta Halina (Cambridge University)

Mark Pexton (University of Durham)

Denis Noble (Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford)

Robert Skidelsky (Emeritus Professor, University of Warwick)

Jessica Wilson (University of Toronto)

Alison Wylie (University of Washington)