Heritability, causal influence and locality


Heritability is routinely interpreted causally. Yet, what such an interpretation amounts to is often unclear. Here, I provide a causal interpretation of this concept in terms of range of causal influence, one of several causal dimensions proposed within the interventionist account of causation. An information-theoretic measure of range of causal influence has recently been put forward in the literature. Starting from this formalization and relying upon Woodward’s analysis, I show that an important problem associated with interpreting heritability causally, namely the locality problem, amounts, at least partly, to a low invariance and low stability between the genotype/ environment and the phenotype of individuals. In light of this, I plead for a causal interpretation of heritability that takes the notions of Woodward’s invariance and stability into consideration. In doing so, I defuse naive causal interpretations of heritability.

Synthese, 198, pp. 6689–6715.
Pierrick Bourrat
Pierrick Bourrat
Senior Lecturer & DECRA Fellow

My research interests include the various concepts deployed in evolutionary theory, causation, and the interplay between biological and cultural evolution.