Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 715–734 | Cite as

Emergent properties and the context objection to reduction

Article

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Context Dictyostelium discoideum Emergence Mechanism Reduction 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Alberts, B.,  et al. 1994Molecular Biology of the Cell3Garland PublishingNew yorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Bechtel, W., Richardson, R.C. 1993Discovering Complexity: Decomposition and Localization as Strategies in Scientific ResearchPrinceton University PressPrincetonGoogle Scholar
  3. Beurton, P.Falk, R.Rheinberger, H.-J. eds. 2000The Concept on the Gene in Development and EvolutionCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Brandon, R. 1984Grene on mechanism and reduction: More than just a side issuePSA 19842345353Google Scholar
  5. Camazine, S., Deneubourg, J.-L., Franks, N.R., Sneyd, J., Theraulaz, G., Bonabeau, E. 2001Self-Organization in Complex SystemsPrinceton University PressPrincetonGoogle Scholar
  6. Craver, C. 2001Role functions, mechanisms, and hierarchyPhil. Sci.685374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Emmeche, C., Køppe, S., Stjernfelt, F. 1997Explaining emergence: Towards an ontology of levelsJ. Gen. Phil. Sci.2883119Google Scholar
  8. Fodor, J. 1975The Language of ThoughtHarvard University PressCambridge MAGoogle Scholar
  9. Fox Keller, E. 1999Understanding developmentBiol. Phil.14321330Google Scholar
  10. Frost-Arnold, G. 2004How to be an anti-reductionist about developmental biology: Response to Laubichler and WagnerBiol. Phil.197591Google Scholar
  11. Glennan, S. 1996Mechanisms and the nature of causationErkenntnis444971CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kessin, R.H. 2001Dictyostelium: Evolution, Cell Biology, and the Development of MulticellularityCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  13. Kincaid, H. 1990Molecular biology and the unity of sciencePhil. Sci.57575593Google Scholar
  14. Kincaid, H. 1994

    Reduction, explanation, and individualism

    Kincaid, H. eds. Individualisms and the Unity of Sciences: Essays on Reduction, Explanation, and the Special SciencesRowman and LittlefieldLanham MD
    Google Scholar
  15. Kitcher, P. 19841953 and all thatPhil. Rev.93335373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kitcher, P. 1999The hegemony of molecular biologyBiol. Phil.14195210Google Scholar
  17. Klee, RL 1984Micro-determinism and concepts of emergencePhilosophy of Science514463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Laubichler, M.D., Wagner, G.P. 2001How molecular is molecular developmental biology? A reply to Alex Rosenberg's Reductionism redux: Computing the embryoBiol. Phil.165368Google Scholar
  19. Machamer, P., Darden, L., Craver, C. 2000Thinking about mechanismsPhil. Sci.67125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mayr, E. 1982The Growth of Biological ThoughtHarvard University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Mitchell S. 2002. Ceteris Paribus – An inadequate representation for biological contingency. Erkenntnis forthcoming.Google Scholar
  22. Neumann-Held, E.M. 1998

    The gene is dead – long live the gene: Conceptualising the gene the constructionist way

    Koslowski, P. eds. Sociobiology and Bioeconomics: The Theory of Evolution in Biological and Economic TheorySpringer-VerlagBerlin105137
    Google Scholar
  23. Nicolis, G, Prigogine, I 1989Exploring ComplexityW.H. Freeman and CompanyNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Oppenheim, P., Putnam, H. 1958

    The unity of science as a working hypothesis

    Feigl, H. eds. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of ScienceVol. 2University of Minnesota PressMinneapolis, MN336
    Google Scholar
  25. Oyama, S. 1995The Ontogeny of InformationCambridge University PressCambridgeGoogle Scholar
  26. Petit, P. 1993

    For individualismagainst collectivism

    The Common MindOxford University PressOxford
    Google Scholar
  27. Polanyi, M. 1968Life's irreducible structureScience16913081312Google Scholar
  28. Putnam, H. 1975MindLanguage and Reality: Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2Cambridge University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Ricard, J 1999Biological Complexity and the Dynamics of Life ProcessesElsevierAmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  30. Rosenberg, A. 1985The Structure of Biological ScienceCambridge University PressNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  31. Rosenberg, A. 1997Reductionism redux: computing the embryoBiol. Phil.12445470Google Scholar
  32. Rosenberg, A. 2001How is biological explanation possible?Br. J. Phil. Sci.52735760CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rueger, A. 2000aRobust supervenience and emergencePhil. Sci.67466489CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Rueger, A. 2000bPhysical emergencediachronic and synchronicSynthese124297322CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Schaffner, K.F. 1993Discovery and Explanation in Biology and MedicineUniversity of Chicago PressChicagoGoogle Scholar
  36. Schaffner, K.F. 1996

    Theory structure and knowledge representation in molecular biology

    Sarkar, S. eds. The Philosophy and History of Molecular Biology: New PerspectivesKluwerDordrecht2743
    Google Scholar
  37. Shoemaker , S. 2002Kim on emergencePhilosophical Studies1085363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sober, E. 1999The multiple realizability argument against reductionismPhil. Sci.66542564CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sole, R., Goodwin, B. 2000Signs of Life: How Complexity Pervades BiologyBasic BooksNew YorkGoogle Scholar
  40. Steel, D. 2004Can a reductionist be a pluralist?Biol. Phil.195573Google Scholar
  41. Sterelny, K., Griffiths, P.E. 1999Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of BiologyUniversity of Chicago PressChicagoGoogle Scholar
  42. Waters, E.K. 1990

    Why the anti-reductionist consensus wonȁ9t survive: The case of classical Mendelian genetics

    Fine, A.Forbes, M.Wessels, L. eds. PSA 1990: Proceedings of the 1990 Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Vol. 1Philosophy of Science AssociationEast Lansing, MI125139
    Google Scholar
  43. Waters, C.K. 1994Genes made molecularPhil. Sci.61163185Google Scholar
  44. Welshon, R. 2002Emergencesupervenienceand realizationPhilosophical Studies1083951CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Wimsatt, W.E. 2000Emergence as non-aggregativity and the biases of reductionismFoundations Sci.5269297Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of History and Philosophy of Science, 1017 Cathedral of LearningUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations