Resolving the emergence-reduction debate

Synthese 151 (3):499-509 (2006)
The debate between emergentists and reductionists rests on the observation that in many situations, in which it seems desirable to work with a coherent and unified discourse, key predicates fall into different groups, such that pairs of members one taken from each group, cannot be co-predicated of some common subject. Must we settle for ‘island’ discourses in science and human affairs or is some route to a unified discourse still open? To make progress towards resolving the issue the conditions under which such segregations of predicates seem inexorable must be brought out. The distinction between determinable and determinate properties throws light on some aspects of this problem. Bohr’s concept of complementarity, when combined with Gibson’s idea of an affordances as a special class of dispositional properties is helpful. Several seeming problems melt away, for example, how it is possible for a group of notes to become hearable as a melody. The mind-body problem and the viability of the project of reducing biology to chemistry and physics are two issues that are more difficult to deal with. Are mental phenomena, such as feelings and memories emergent from material systems or are they actually material properties themselves? Are the attributes of living beings emergent from certain accidental but long running collocations of chemical reactions, or are they nothing but chemical phenomena? If emergent, in what way are they distinctive from that from which they emerge?
Keywords Complementarity  Disposition  Emergence  Properties  Reduction  Science  Bohr, Niels
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-006-9020-5
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