[lit-ideas] Popper and Grice on Emergence and Supervenience

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 22 Sep 2015 14:18:31 -0400

In their entry on "Emergent Properties" ("my favourite," in the words of
J. M. Geary), O'Connor, Timothy and Wong, Hong Yu -- The Stanford
Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

"Popper confusingly blurs together a variety of issues — the status of
general causal determinism, the metaphysics of indeterministic causality, and
the synchronic relationship of properties of microscopic parts and
macroscopic wholes."

These are VERY DIFFERENT concepts and Popper does wrong in confusingly
blurring together them.

Let's re-examine:

(a) causal determinism: the idea that the cause determines the effect.
(b) the metaphysics of indeterministic causation -- the idea that a cause
may NOT determine an effect.
(c) the microscopic ('unobservable' usually posited as theoretical
constructs) and the macroscopic ('material objects')

O'Connor and Yu go on:

"In places Popper argues that there are emergent features in the
structural/dynamical sense,"

-- or in a structural or dynamic WAY, if you will.

-- "and it is likely that Popper also believed that there are emergent
features in the stronger, ontological sense"

-- or way --

"Nonetheless, it is the case that Popper often equates emergence with
unpredictability (see, e.g., The Self and its Brain p.16) and suggests that
failure of causal determinism is crucial to emergence in any of these

-- or ways.

O'Connor and Yu quote directly from Popper:

"If this Laplacian determinism is accepted, nothing whatever can be
unpredictable in principle. So evolution cannot be emergent."
(p. 22)

"Any change in the higher level (temperature) will thus influence the
lower level (the movement of the individual atoms [or corpuscules --

"The one-sided dominance [of higher on lower levels of matter] is due … to
the random character of the heat motions of the atoms [or corpuscules]."

"For it seems that were the universe per impossible a perfect determinist
clockwork, there would be no layers and therefore no such dominating
influence would occur."

"This suggests that the emergence of hierarchical levels or layers, and of
an interaction between them, depends upon a fundamental indeterminism of
the physical universe."

"Each level is open to causal influence from lower and from higher
levels." (p.35)

This O'Connor and Yu rightly find inadequate. O. T. O. H. there's Grice.
Grice borrowed from Hare (but alas, never returned) the _concept_ of
'supervenience', as in x supervenes on y.

The issues are so complex that it's inaudible, metaphorically, that Popper
would oppose to conceptual analysis of the constructive type. No wonder he
gets criticism from analysts like O'Connor and Yu. O. T. O. H., Grice



To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts:

  • » [lit-ideas] Popper and Grice on Emergence and Supervenience