Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 715-734

First online:

Emergent properties and the context objection to reduction

  • Megan DelehantyAffiliated withDepartment of History and Philosophy of Science, 1017 Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh Email author 

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Reductionism is a central issue in the philosophy of biology. One common objection to reduction is that molecular explanation requires reference to higher-level properties, which I refer to as the context objection. I respond to this objection by arguing that a well-articulated notion of a mechanism and what I term mechanism extension enables one to accommodate the context-dependence of biological processes within a reductive explanation. The existence of emergent features in the context could be raised as an objection to the possibility of reduction via this strategy. I argue that this objection can be overcome by showing that there is no tenable argument for the existence of emergent properties that are not susceptible to a reductive explanation.


Context Dictyostelium discoideum Emergence Mechanism Reduction