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Hist Philos Life Sci. 2005;27(3-4):407-20.

Genes, causation and intentionality.

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Universit├Ąt Basel, Programm Wissenschaftsforschung, Missionsstrasse 21, 4003 Basel, Switzerland.


I want to exhibit the deeper metaphysical reasons why some common ways of describing the causal role of genes in development and evolution are problematic. Specifically, I show why using the concept of information in an intentional sense in genetics is inappropriate, even given a naturalistic account of intentionality. Furthermore, I argue that descriptions that use notions such as programming, directing or orchestrating are problematic not for empirical reasons, but because they are not strictly causal. They are intentional. By contrast, other notions that are part of the received view in genetics and evolutionary theory are defensible if understood correctly, in particular the idea that genes are the main replicators in evolution. The paper concludes that dropping all intentional or intentionally laden concepts does not force us to accept the so-called causal parity thesis, at least not in its stronger form.

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