, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 33–56 | Cite as

Physicalism, Emergence and Downward Causation

  • Richard J. Campbell
  • Mark H. Bickhard


The development of a defensible and fecund notion of emergence has been dogged by a number of threshold issues neatly highlighted in a recent paper by Jaegwon Kim. We argue that physicalist assumptions confuse and vitiate the whole project. In particular, his contention that emergence entails supervenience is contradicted by his own argument that the ‘microstructure’ of an object belongs to the whole object, not to its constituents. And his argument against the possibility of downward causation is question-begging and makes false assumptions about causal sufficiency. We argue, on the contrary, for a rejection of the deeply entrenched assumption, shared by physicalists and Cartesians alike, that what basically exists are things (entities, substances). Our best physics tells us that there are no basic particulars, only fields in process. We need an ontology which gives priority to organization, which is inherently relational. Reflection upon the fact that all biological creatures are far-from-equilibrium systems, whose very persistence depend upon their interactions with their environment, reveals incoherence in the notion of an ‘emergence base’.


Physicalism Supervenience Emergence Reduction Processes Downward causation 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Lehigh UniversityBethlehemUSA

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