Reduction and emergence in the physical sciences: Reply to Rueger

Synthese 151 (3):347 - 354 (2006)
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Abstract

I analyse Rueger’s application of Kim’s model of functional reduction to the relation between the thermal conductivities of metal bars at macroscopic and atomic scales. 1) I show that it is a misunderstanding to accuse the functional reduction model of not accounting for the fact that there are causal powers at the micro-level which have no equivalent at the macro-level. The model not only allows but requires that the causal powers by virtue of which a functional predicate is defined, are only a subset of the causal powers of the properties filling the functional specification. 2) The fact that the micro-equation does not converge to the macro-equation in general but only under the constraint of a “solvability condition” does not show that reduction is impossible, as Rueger claims, but only that reduction requires inter-level constraints. 3) Rueger tries to analyse inter-level reduction with the conceptual means of intra-level reduction. This threatens the coherence of his analysis, given that it makes no sense to ascribe macroproperties such as thermal conductivity to entities at the atomic level. Ignoring the distinction between theses two senses of “reduction” is especially confusing because they have opposite directions: in intra-level reduction, the more detailed account reduces to the less detailed one, whereas in inter-level reduction, the less detailed theory is reduced to the more detailed one. 4) Finally I criticize Rueger’s way of using Wimsatt’s criteria for emergence in terms of non-aggregativity, to construct a concept of synchronic emergence. It is wrong to require, over and above non-aggregativity, irreducibility as a criterion for emergence.

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Max Kistler
University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne