, Volume 194, Issue 7, pp 2291–2305 | Cite as

Are causal facts really explanatorily emergent? Ladyman and Ross on higher-level causal facts and renormalization group explanation

  • Alexander ReutlingerEmail author


In their Every Thing Must Go, Ladyman and Ross defend a novel version of Neo-Russellian metaphysics of causation, which falls into three claims: (1) there are no fundamental physical causal facts, (2) there are higher-level causal facts of the special sciences, and (3) higher-level causal facts are explanatorily emergent. While accepting claims (1) and (2), I attack claim (3). Ladyman and Ross argue that higher-level causal facts are explanatorily emergent, because (a) certain aspects of these higher-level facts (their universality) can be captured by renormalization group (RG) explanations, and (b) RG explanations are not reductive explanations. However, I argue that RG explanation should be understood as reductive explanations. This result undermines Ladyman and Ross’s RG-based argument for the explanatory emergence of higher-level causal facts.


Renormalization Group Critical Exponent Universality Class Special Science Renormalization Group Method 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I am grateful to Laura Franklin-Hall, Andreas Hüttemann, James Ladyman, Barry Loewer, Margaret Morrison, John Norton, Michael Strevens, Karim Thebault, and Jessica Wilson for helpful discussions. I acknowledge support by the Humboldt Foundation at the MCMP.


  1. Batterman, R. (2000). Multiple realizability and universality. British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 51, 115–145.Google Scholar
  2. Batterman, R. (2002). The devil in the details. Asymptotic reasoning in explanation, reduction and emergence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Batterman, R. (2010). On the explanatory role of mathematics in empirical science. British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 61, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Butterfield, J. (2011). Less is different: Emergence and reduction reconciled. Foundations of Physics, 41, 1065–1135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Craver, C. (2007). Explaining the brain. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Earman, J. (2004). Curie’s principle and spontaneous symmetry breaking. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 18, 173–198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Farr, M., Reutlinger, A. (2013). A relic of a bygone age? Causation, time symmetry and the directionality argument. Erkenntnis. doi: 10.1007/s10670-013-9510-z.
  8. Fisher, M. (1982). Scaling, university and renormalization group theory. In F. Hahne (Ed.), Critical phenomena: Lecture notes in physics (Vol. 186, pp. 1–139). Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  9. Fodor, J. (1997). Special sciences. Still autonomous after all these years. Philosophical Perspectives, 11, 149–163.Google Scholar
  10. Franklin-Hall, L. (manuscript). The causal economy account of scientific explanation. unpublished.Google Scholar
  11. Frisch, M. (2007). Causation, counterfactuals, and entropy. In H. Price & R. Corry (eds), Causation, physics, and the constitution of reality. Russell’s republic revisited (pp. 351–95). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  12. Hüttemann, A., & Love, A. (2011). Aspects of reductive explanation in biological science: Intrinsicality, fundamentality, and temporality. British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 62, 519–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hüttemann, A., Reimer K., & Orestis, T. (forthcoming). Stability, emergence and part-whole reduction. In B. Falkenburg & M. Morrison (Eds.), Why more is different philosophical issues in condensed matter physics and complex systems. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  14. Kim, J. (1999). Making sense of emergence. Philosophical Studies, 95, 3–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ladyman, James, & Ross, Don. (2007). Every thing must go. Metaphysics naturalized. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Loewer, B. (2007). In H. Price & R. Corry (Eds.), Counterfactuals and the second law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  17. Loewer, B. (2009). Why is there anything except physics? Synthese, 170, 217–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Machamer, P., Darden, L., & Craver, C. F. (2000). Thinking about mechanisms. Philosophy of Science, 67, 1–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Morrison, M. (2012). Emergent physics and micro-ontology. Philosophy of Science, 79, 141–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Norton, J. (2012). Approximation and Idealization: Why the difference matters. Philosophy of Science, 79, 207–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Norton, J. (2014). Infinite idealizations. In European Philosophy of Science. Philosophy of Science in Europe and the Viennese Heritage: Vienna Circle Institute Yearbook (Vol. 17, pp. 197–210). Springer: Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  22. Price, H., & Corry, R. (Eds.). (2007). Causation, physics, and the constitution of reality. Russell’s republic revisited. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  23. Reutlinger, Alexander. (2013). Can interventionists be neo-Russellians? Interventionism, the open systems argument and the arrow of entropy. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 27(3), 275–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Reutlinger, A. (2014a). Why is there universal macro-behavior? Renormalization group explanation as non-causal explanation. Philosophy of Science.
  25. Reutlinger, A. (2014b). Explanation beyond causation.Google Scholar
  26. Ross, D., & Spurrett, D. (2007). Notions of cause. Russell’s thesis revisited. British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 58(1), 45–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Russell, B. (1912/13). On the notion of cause. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 13, 1–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schaffer, J. (2009). On what grounds what. In D. Chalmers, M. David, & W. Ryan (Eds.), Metametaphysics. New essays on the foundations of ontology (pp. 347–383). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Shimony, A. (1993). Search for a naturalistic world view. Natural science and metaphysics (Vol. II). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Strevens, M. (2002). Review of Robert W. Batterman: The devil in the details. Philosophy of Science, 69, 654–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Strevens, M. (2003). Bigger than chaos. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Strevens, M. (2008). Depth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Wilson, J. (2010). Non-reductive physicalism and degrees of freedom. British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 61, 279–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Woodward, J. (2003). Making things happen. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Woodward, J. (2007). Causation with a human face. In H. Price & R. Corry (Eds.), Causation, physics, and the constitution of reality. Russell’s republic revisited (pp. 66–105). Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  36. Woodward, J. (2010). Causation in biology: Stability, specificity, and the choice of levels of explanation. Biology and Philosophy, 25, 287–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Munich Center for Mathematical PhilosophyLudwig-Maximilians-Universität MünchenMünchenGermany

Personalised recommendations