Methodological individualism: Singular causal systems and their population manifestations

Synthese 68 (1):99 - 128 (1986)

The purpose of this essay is to investigate the properties of singular causal systems and their population manifestations, with special concern for the thesis of methodological individualism, which claims that there are no properties of social groups that cannot be adequately explained exclusively by reference to properties of individual members of those groups, i.e., at the level of individuals. Individuals, however, may be viewed as singular causal systems, i.e., as instantiations of (arrangements of) dispositional properties. From this perspective, methodological individualism appears to be an ambiguous thesis: some properties of collections of (independent) systems of the same kind are reducible, but other properties of collections of (dependent) systems of the same kind are not. In cases of the first kind, therefore, methodological individualism is true, but trivial; while in cases of the second kind, it is significant, but false. Hence, if the arguments that follow are correct, at least some of the properties of social groups should qualify as emergent.
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