Reduction and Emergence

Both ancient thought and modern science encourage a metaphysical view of our world according to which the macroscopic denizens of our world are constituted by unobservable microscopic objects. This view's grip is so powerful that questions regarding the relationship between the microscopic objects, their properties, and our best theories about them on the one hand, and the macroscopic objects, their properties, and our best theories about them on the other hand take central stage in much of theoretical philosophy, e.g. in metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of science. These relationships are often explicated in terms of reduction, emergence, and supervenience. This seminar will articulate these concepts and discuss the philosophical problems that arise from them. Since this is a course in philosophy of science, we will also pay significant attention to scientific perspectives on reduction and emergence, alongside metaphysics and philosophy of mind. We will read a combination of contemporary classics and recent contributions to the field.

Prerequisites: Graduate standing or permission of the instructor.

Distribution requirements: This course can be counted towards the fulfillment of the distribution requirement in philosophy of science.

Course Materials

Course materials such as lecture notes, handouts, etc may be made available as they will be used in class.

The collection we will be using is Mark Bedau and Paul Humphreys (eds.), Emergence: Contemporary Readings in Philosophy and Science, MIT Press (2008). It is available at the Price Center Bookstore. The book has an associated website here.

A number of texts will be made available through e-reserves: Link to this course's e-reserves page (password is 'cw245')

Excellent background material for this class can be found in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.