Sunday, August 20, 2017

Horgan on the British emergentists

The British emergentists were not substance-dualists; they held that all particulars are physical entities wholly constituted out of physical entities as their parts. But they were not full-fledged materialists either, because they denied that physics is a causally complete science. They maintained that at various junctures in the course of evolution, complex physical entities came into being that had certain non-physical, "emergent", properties. These properties, they claimed, are fundamental force-generating properties, over and above the force-generating properties of physics; when such a property is instantiated by an individual, the total causal forces operative within the individual are a combination of physical and non-physical forces, and the resulting behavior of the individual is different from what it would have been had the emergent force(s) not been operative alongside the lower-level forces… Furthermore, there is no explanation for why emergent properties come into being, or why they generate the specific non-physical forces they do. These facts are metaphysically and scientifically basic, in much the same way that fundamental laws of physics are basic; they are unexplained explainers, which must be accepted (in Samuel Alexander's striking phrase) "with natural piety". Putative examples of emergent properties included (i) chemical-bonding properties of molecules, which were held to be emergent from physical properties of atoms or their constituents; (ii) self-maintenance and reproductive properties of living things, emergent from physical and chemical properties; and (iii) mental properties of creatures with consciousness, emergent from physical, chemical, and biological properties.11

1 comment:

Hal said...

If reductionism were correct we would only have one science: physics. It is because of the emergence of biotic from abiotic matter that we have at least one other science from physics:biology.

The fact that the British emergentists misunderstood or failed to understand how everything emerges does not negate the fact that many new things with many new properties have emerged since the big bang.