Missing elements and missing premises: A combinatorial argument for the ontological reduction of chemistry

Does chemistry reduce to physics? If this means ‘Can we derive the laws of chemistry from the laws of physics?’, recent discussions suggest that the answer is ‘no’. But sup posing that kind of reduction—‘epistemological reduction’—to be impossible, the thesis of ontological reduction may still be true: that chemical properties are determined by more fundamental properties. However, even this thesis is threatened by some objections to the physicalist programme in the philosophy of mind, objections that generalize to the chemical case. Two objections are discussed: that physicalism is vacuous, and that nothing grounds the asymmetry of dependence which reductionism requires. Although it might seem rather surprising that the philosophy of chemistry is affected by shock waves from debates in the philosophy of mind, these objections show that there is an argumentative gap between, on the one hand, the theoretical connection linking chemical properties with properties at the sub-atomic level, and, on the other, the philosophical thesis of ontological reduction. The aim of this paper is to identify the missing premises (among them a theory of physical possibility) that would bridge this gap. Introduction: missing elements and the mystery of discreteness The refutation of physicalism A combinatorial theory of physical possibilia Combinatorialism and the Bohr model Objections The missing premises and a disanalogy with mind.
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DOI 10.1093/phisci/axi106
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Paul Needham (2010). Nagel's Analysis of Reduction: Comments in Defense as Well as Critique. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B 41 (2):163-170.

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