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Ontology, matter and emergence

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“Ontological emergence” of inherent high-level properties with causal powers is witnessed nowhere. A non-substantialist conception of emergence works much better. It allows downward causation, provided our concept of causality is transformed accordingly.

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  1. This problem of “radical situatedness” is discussed and developed in a recent paper of mine. Bitbol (2002)

  2. In these matters, it is crucial “(...) to be clear about whether we are investigating a limitation of scientific description or something about actual physical processes in the world” (Deacon, 2003).

  3. Of course, this strategy of interpretation hides a crucial dialectic between third-person and first-person accounts: from behavior to intention, and then back again (by means of the usual strategy of projection) to intentional behavior. This issue of first-person standpoint will be briefly evoked in the conclusion.

  4. I thank David Rudrauf (LENA, Hôpital de la Salpêtrière, Paris) for formulating this sound reductionist objection.


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Correspondence to Michel Bitbol.

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A former version of this paper was intended as part of my contribution to the Mind & Life meeting in Dharamsala (India) in October 2002 (in fact, only a small fraction of it was presented there). I thank all the participants, especially U. Goodenough, S. Chu, and P.L. Luisi for their cogent discussion. Very special thanks are due to His Holiness the Dalai-Lama, who provided both his intellectual insight and a quality which is seldom met in other conferences: a sense of unity of purpose and “embodiment” of knowledge, beyond the differences in standpoint.

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Bitbol, M. Ontology, matter and emergence. Phenom Cogn Sci 6, 293–307 (2007).

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