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.
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Two clarifications: first, Kim as well as Ladyman and Ross are unclear about whether a fact is emergent or “resultant” if only some but not all criteria for emergence (and, respectively, for reduction) are met—for instance, if one is able to explain but not predict a phenomenon based on lower-level information. Second, Ladyman and Ross do not address metaphysical emergence, in which, for instance, non-reductive physicalists are interested (Loewer 2009; Wilson 2010).
I assume that Kim’s formulations such as “the coming together of lower-level entities” (criterion 1), “properties and relations that characterize their constituent parts” (criterion 2), “lower-level information” (criterion 3), “basal conditions” (criterion 4), and “basal constituents” (criterion 5) are merely stylistic variations of talk about interactions between the components of a system.
Note that Ladyman and Ross’s arguments for the orthodox Russellian claim are independent of whether RG explanations are reductive explanations (cf. Ladyman and Ross 2007, Sects. 5.1 and 5.3).
Ladyman and Ross (2007, Sect. 1.5) also present arguments against (i) (ontological and epistemic versions of) reductionism as the correct characterization of the way fundamental physics and the special sciences are related, against (ii) a particular mereological account of part-whole relations in fundamental physics, and against (iii) the commitment to the existence of a fundamental level of reality. However, these arguments are beyond the scope of this paper.
I do not discuss whether there is a general model of explanation of scientific explanations that subsumes RG explanations. I think that Woodward’s (2003, pp. 220–221) and Strevens’s (2008, pp. 179–180) notions of counterfactual dependence and difference-making can be extended to cover RG explanations (cf. Reutlinger 2014).
Wilson (2010) provides a detailed discussion of the concept of degrees of freedom.
Shimony (1993, p. 208) discusses RG transformations and their applicability conditions in detail.
Hüttemann and Love (2011, Sect. 3) require that reductive explanation draw on components that are “intrinsic” to the system whose behavior is to be explained. Since the explanandum of an RG explanation concerns macroscopic similarities between two (or more) microscopically different systems, the requirement of intrinsicness has to be amended: the reductive explanation of macroscopic similarities between two microscopically different systems is reductive if it refers to components that are “intrinsic” to the systems (and do not belong to the environments of the two systems).
Thanks to a referee and to Margie Morrison for raising this point.
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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.
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Reutlinger, A. Are causal facts really explanatorily emergent? Ladyman and Ross on higher-level causal facts and renormalization group explanation. Synthese 194, 2291–2305 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-014-0530-2