Emergence

My dissertation (also here) research defended emergentist accounts in the Philosophy of Mind. Emergentism seeks to offer a "middle ground" between reductive materialism and traditional Cartesian dualism. Rather than describing the world as consisting entirely of one kind of thing (matter), or as constituted by two radically different kinds of thing separated by a vast metaphysical chasm (the mind on one end, and matter on the other), the Emergentist simultaneously maintains that there is an ontological distinction between the nature of conscious experiences and the nature of physical states such as brain states, and yet that conscious experiences depend entirely for their existence on physical states, which are sufficient for them - nothing further is needed. Emergentist accounts have traditionally faced four challenges. First, it's not clear that Emergentism is coherent, since precise formulations tend to collapse into either non-reductive materialism or traditional dualism. Second, emergentists have difficulties explaining how it is that mental events can cause physical events. Third, the view seems to presuppose that we can infer a gap in the world from a gap in our concepts. Lastly, as a theory, it is entirely ad hoc -- it isn't thought to apply to any domain besides conscious experiences. I attempt to defend emergentism against these challenges.

The Exclusion Problem and Two Notions of Sufficiency

Jaegwon Kim’s Exclusion Arguments make use of two principles, the Causal Closure of the Physical Domain and the Exclusion Principle, that both invoke the notion of a sufficient cause. I will try to explain why the phrase “sufficient cause” admits of two interpretations: one on which a cause is “sufficient” in the technical sense of being a logically “sufficient condition” of its effect, and one on which a cause is “sufficient” in the ordinary language sense of being “enough”, such that nothing else is needed to bring the effect about. I will argue that Kim’s opponent can evade his argument by only accepting that mental events are sufficient causes of physical events in the ordinary sense of being complete, rather than the technical sense of permitting a deduction.

Physicalism, Emergence, and the Varieties of Grounding

I understand "grounding" relations as members of a family of relations involving non-causal explanation rather than a unified, "Big G" Grounding relation. Given this understanding, I begin by exploring two types of grounding relations: one involved in our ontological explanations, or explanations of the being of some object or instantiation of some property, and one involved in our metaphysical explanations, or explanations of the essential nature of some object or property. This allows, similar to a proposal by Ned Block, for a distinction between "ontological" and "metaphysical" formulations of physicalism, the former similar in spirit to supervenience physicalism and the latter closer to the sort of physicalism which, to use Horgan's expression, involves "superdupervenience". Having made this distinction, I then argue in favor of drawing a parallel distinction between "ontological" and "metaphysical" formulations of emergentism, depending upon whether or not emergent is compatible with the metaphysical necessitation of something emergent by its physical basal conditions. This distinction makes clearer the difference between the forms of dualism motivated by conceivability arguments and those motivated by arguments from epistemic asymmetry.

Weak Emergence is Ontological Emergence

It is conventional to distinguish "weak" emergence from "strong" emergence, and to distinguish "ontological" emergence from "[merely] epistemological" emergence. It is also conventional to assume that weak emergence just is merely epistemological, and strong emergence just is ontological emergence. I argue in favor of accepting a serious notion of weak ontological emergence. As I understand it, there are some cases in which the best explanation for the epistemological emergence we encounter is some sort of distinction in ontology. Not all distinctions in ontology require the kind of radical break which occurs in "strong emergence" which is advocated by emergent dualists for consciousness. Instead, there are cases where some part of the nature of a emergent phenomenon may resist reduction even in principle, but the emergent phenomenon still qualifies as physical. These are cases of weak emergence, but with ontological significance.

What does it take to Deduce the World?

Since C. D. Broad, emergentism has been associated with a thought experiment involving a test of ideal deducibility: a higher-level phenomenon is genuinely emergent from a lower-level phenomenon if and only if an ideal reasoner could not deduce a priori the higher-level from the lower level without the aid of, for instance, empirically observed correlations between the two. Some, like Jaegwon Kim, as well as Ned Block and Robert Stalnaker, have raised concerns for deducibility tests of this sort. Others, like David Chalmers, have made ample use of these deducibility tests to justify an overarching picture of fundamental metaphysics. Just what sort of relation does ideal a priori deducibility have to emergence, and why? I suggest that we might be better served by considering ideal deducibility in terms of the logical and conceptual resources available a priori to an ideal reasoner. I suggest that post-Quinean epistemology should understand the apriori aposteriori distinction as representing a spectrum rather than a binary distinction, in that there are a number of more and less extensive ways of distinguishing what might qualify as justifiable a priori. In light of this, we can differentiate types of emergence with different degrees of strength or weakness in terms of to differing resources that would need to be a priori for an ideal reasoner in order to deduce the emergent phenomenon from a knowledge of its underlying basal conditions.

Everyday Downward Causation

I argue that, on one plausible account of what causation is, there are cases in which causal responsibility for a lower-level event is best attributable to higher-level groups or complex systems rather than to the lower-level individuals which compose those systems. I begin by advocating the plausibility of a significantly modified, non-reductive version of the complex counterfactual theory of causation, and show how this variant addresses many of the worries which preemption cases traditionally pose for a counterfactual analysis. I then show how on this analysis there remain some unusual preemption cases, those involving large numbers of centrally uncoordinated but collectively patterned behaviors by groups of individuals or complex systems, where no individual can properly be attributed causal responsibility for some lower-level effect. In these cases, causal responsibility can only be attributed to the whole group or system. This should lead us to accept downward causation as equally but no more mysterious than causation itself.

Emergence and Manipulative Necessity

The Emergentist about phenomenal consciousness holds that phenomenal properties “arise from” a set of physical basal conditions without being deducible from those basal conditions. The “arises from” claim has lately been interpreted as strong supervenience: emergent properties strongly supervene upon their basal conditions. This means, in part, that emergents are necessitated by their basal conditions. But what sort of necessitation is this? Metaphysical? Nomological? I offer a third option: Manipulative Necessity, a kind of exclusive dependence. I work towards a definition of Manipulative Necessity and suggest a few advantages it might offer the Emergentist.

A Paradox for Subject-Body Monism

Subject-body dualism is the position that the subjects of experiences are not identical to or constituted by material objects. Martine Nida-Rümelin hasargued for subject-body dualism on the basis of ordinary concepts about trans-temporal personal identity, given that we can conceive of what it would be like to awaken as one duplicate of a split-brain patient rather than another. I pursue an objection to her argument likely to be offered by a subject-body materialist, that the argument requires accepting the possibility of primitive facts about personal identity, which would be unacceptably arbitrary. I argue that the subject-body dualist ought to respond by accepting this objection, since it can provide the basis of a stronger argument for subject-body dualism.

Grounding Ontological Emergence

Attempts have recently been made to clarify what physicalism requires or entails by appeal to grounding relations. I suggest in this paper a similar way in which to clarify the equally unclear and disputed notion of ontological emergence. Emergentists are committed to both to the sufficiency of the physical for the mental and to the genuine, ontological distinctness of the mental from the physical. Older formulations, based on supervenience, lead to concerns that emergentists' dueling commitments are incoherent. I argue that emergentism is coherent, when the distinctness claim is reformulated in terms of a denial of grounding.

The Familiar Smell of Emergence

Emergence is often attacked as an abdication of the scientific duty to seek further explanation, or as the equivalent of invoking an "unexplained explainer". I argue instead that emergence does provide us with a useful kind of explanation for consciousness. I discuss a variety of weakly emergent phenomena which are pervasive in the special sciences. The concept of "emergence" plays the explanatory role of grouping these weakly emergent phenomena together and, by a kind of 'meta-induction' on past cases, increasing the probability of finding future cases of genuine emergence. Widespread and familiar cases of weak emergence should, I argue, cause us to think of strong emergence as more probable than it would appear taken standing alone.

The Virtuous Ontological Temperament

Pragmatists like Peirce and James viewed differences between metaphysical schools of thought as reflecting mere differences in temperament. Although we have moved beyond the idealist-realist debates in which Peirce and James would have been immersed during the 19th century, the pragmatist's error theory in meta-metaphysics may seem to have a renewed attraction in the 21st century. Are philosophers really just inclined to defend a particular position by temperament under the guise of reason? Although I do not endorse this view, I consider it for the sake of argument. I argue that accepting that philosophy is temperament-driven rather than reason-driven would not entail accepting an error theory of philosophy. Instead, if we find ourselves in these circumstances, we rationally ought to develop that temperament which is most intellectually virtuous, or most likely to fulfill the function of arrive at the truth. Adopting a position on the basis of personal temperament may still be still praiseworthy if the temperament is inclined towards intellectual virtues, and blameworthy if the temperament is inclined towards intellectual vices. I then argue that moderation is an important part of the virtuous ontological temperament, and that excesses in seeking elimination, reduction, duality, or unification are vicious.

Naturalism, Causal Closure, and the Commitments of Physicalism

Physicalism is motivated primarily by two considerations. First, it is motivated by a commitment to ontological naturalism, or allowing the findings of the natural sciences to shape our ontology. Second, it is motivated by the desire to preserve the causal closure of the physical domain, which seems to be incompatible with admitting causally efficacious non-physical causes. I consider which forms of physicalism are justified by these two considerations. I argue that supervenience physicalism, a form of physicalism which consists in holding to the metaphysically necessary supervenience of everything on the physical domain, is supported by these considerations. By contrast, I argue that grounding physicalism, a form of physicalism which consists in holding that everything has a physical ground, is not adequately supported by these considerations.

Emergence and Functions

I argue in favor of weak emergentism for functional properties in biology, cognition, and linguistics. The view I defend is is foremost a realist view, as opposed to an idealist or psychological-projection view, about the nature of functional properties in nature. It is also a naturalistic view, in the sense the material world and underlying causal patterns within it are entirely sufficient for the emergence of functional properties, without the addition of further ingredients. It is also an anti-reductionist view, in that emergent functional properties are not reducible to the conditions from which they arise. I focus on defusing common misconceptions about the ontological or methodological commitments of anti-reductionist realism about functional or teleological properties.

The Emergence of Tragedy

By moral "tragedies", I mean cases in which both P and ~P are morally impermissible. I accept that there are such tragedies, and that they result from the irreducible plurality of the distinct categories of moral impermissibility. In this essay, I attempt to offer an historical account of the underlying forms of social organization which give rise to these distinct categories of moral impermissibility, and thus to tragic conflict between them. The account is "emergentist" in accepting realism and anti-reductionism about moral norms, while at the same time holding that the applicability of these norms to particular instances arises gradually from concrete and changing social and historical circumstances.

These are works in progress. For more information, please contact me.