Foundations of Science

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 269-297

First online:

Emergence as Non-Aggregativity and the Biases of Reductionisms

  • William C. WimsattAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Committee on Evolutionary Biology and Committee on the Conceptual Foundations of Science, University of Chicago

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Most philosophical accounts of emergence are incompatible with reduction. Most scientists regard a system property as emergent relative to properties of its parts if it depends upon their mode of organization-a view consistent with reduction. Emergence is a failure of aggregativity, in which ``the whole is nothing more than the sum of its parts''. Aggregativity requires four conditions, giving powerful tools for analyzing modes of organization. Differently met for different decompositions of the system, and in different degrees, the structural conditions can provide evaluation criteria for choosing decompositions, ``natural kinds'', and detecting functional localization fallacies, approximations, and various biases of vulgar reductionisms. This analysis of emergence and use of these conditions as heuristics is consistent with a broader reductionistic methodology.

additivity aggregativity emergence functional localization fallacies heuristics near-decomposeability reduction whole-parts relations