This paper “had me” at the title: Composition as Causation. The author is István Aranyosi (thanks due to Online Papers in Philosophy, maintained by Jonathan Ichikawa). A brief summary follows below.
Aranyosi reviews two paradigmatic ways of developing a mereology. One includes an axiom known as the principle of extensionality (or “uniqueness of composition” in David Lewis’ formulation). This says that if x and y share all their proper parts, then they are identical. According to some philosophers it can be further understood to mean that the totality of parts is identical to the composed individual -- composition as identity.
Others have developed an ontological view Aranyosi calls “constitution theory”. By these accounts, constitution is not identity, but an irreflexive and asymmetric relation. However, such theorists need a different composition relation. The problem is that it has been difficult to develop an alternative model to fill out the idea that an individual is “more than the sum of its parts”.
Yet we should develop such a model since composition as identity conflicts with a strong intuition that the relation of x’s comprising y should be asymmetric. In addition to satisfying this intuition, Aranyosi lists the other criteria a constitution theory would need. The relation posed should be able to relate the same parts in the same fashion to distinct individuals at the same spatiotemporal location (e.g. the statue and the lump of clay with which it materially coincides). Also, the relation should be such as to relate the same parts to different individuals at different times (the lump of clay after smashing the statue). Finally and importantly, it should be such as to allow the same individual to be composed of distinct collections of parts at different times, or in different worlds (the cat which loses its tail is still the same individual). Composition as identity satisfies none of these criteria.
In thinking about these criteria, Aranyosi proposes that the notion of causality as composition may be able to satisfy them. First, like composition, causation is intuitively asymmetric. Second, in considering the criterion of the relation of the same parts to different individuals at the same spatiotemporal location: causes can have multiple effects at the same location. Next, for the criterion of relating the same parts in the same fashion to distinct individuals at different times or worlds: the same causes can be causes for distinct things. Finally, the criterion that the relation allow of distinct collections of parts to compose the same individual: the same effect can be brought about by distinct causes at different times.
Aranyosi considers some issues with this proposal. Part/whole relations are considered simultaneous while causality is temporal (but there may not be any problem with the idea of simultaneous causation). He also discusses how this fits with event vs. object ontologies, and discusses possible problems stemming from how causation fits in with laws of nature and counterfactual analysis. He further discusses the conflict between causation as part of contingent laws of nature vs. the traditional view of merelogical relations as metaphysically necessary. Aranyosi doesn’t present this paper as providing a complete and convincing account of composition as causation, but suggests it is a fruitful starting point for further work.
I like this idea of connecting composition with causality, and recall that I had already come across it in Gregg Rosenberg’s metaphysical system (discussed in posts here and here). In Rosenberg’s theory of causality the receptive properties proposed to help explain real causation were also connective properties which bound natural individuals together into causal nexii at various levels in nature.