PHIL4720H—Advanced Topics in Philosophy of Science:
Emergentism and Reductionism
with Dr. Dwayne Moore
Wednesdays from 1 pm to 2:50 pm
In this course we will study the philosophical and scientific dispute between emergentism and reductionism. Emergentism is the cryptic claim that nature contains wholes that are more than the sum of their parts. Reductionism, on the contrary, is the doctrine that wholes are nothing but the sum of their parts. Debate rages in numerous scientific disciplines over whether or not genuine instances of emergent phenomena exist. Chlorine and sodium, for example, are toxic to humans taken in isolation, but when combined they produce table salt. Similarly, living organisms, while composed of tissues and bones, appear to have system wide capabilities, such as the capacity for reproduction, regeneration and homeostatic regulation. Neural activity, when firing in a petri dish, lacks consciousness and agency, but when the same neural activity occurs within an appropriately wired brain, consciousness and agency arises. And psychological individuals are often organized into social institutions and/or located within social structures, where these social structures appear to influence the activity of their members. Are these instances of emergent phenomena, or are salt, life, consciousness and social institutions reducible to their respective parts? In this course we will consider these and other related questions by investigating the historical and contemporary emergentist movement, along with the accompanying reductionist critique.