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Emergence and Downward Determination in the Natural Sciences

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The problem of downward causation--that is, the problem of how a higher-level phenomenon can cause or determine or structure a lower-level phenomenon--is central to emergentism and is also highly debated in the literature on emergence. Downward causation can play, in our view, an important role in the development of our understanding of biological networks and the genotype-phenotype relationship. In order to advance in the discussion of the problem of downward causation, we discuss neo-Aristotelian approaches, which claim that causal modes other than efficient causation are needed to account for this phenomenon, particularly, formal and functional causation. We advocate, rather, that a proper understanding of downward causation demands other kinds of determination, besides causal determination. We develop, thus, an account of downward determination. In particular, we consider two issues: (i) What sorts of 'things' are said to be determining and determined in a case of downward determination? (ii) What is the meaning of determining in downward determination? By advancing an attempt to answer these questions, we intend to develop a coherent account about how principles of organization constrain and, thus, partially determine the behavior of a system's lower-level constituents. In this account of downward determination, a higher-level organizational pattern, interpreted as a general principle, is the determiner, while lower-level particular processes are determined. The determining influence from a higher-level general organizational principle to particular lower-level processes, in turn, is framed as follows: If lower-level entities a,b,c,…,n are under the influence of a general organizational principle, W, then they will show a tendency, a disposition, to instantiate process p or a set of processes {P}. The changes in disposition in downward determination can be treated in terms of Popper's propensities, in such a manner that their probability are not just in our minds,

Keywords: Downward causation; Propensities; Reductionism; but areEmergence; instantiated in the world.Downward determination

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Graduate Studies Program in History, Philosophy, and Science Teaching, Universidade Federal da Bahia/ Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana. ., Email: 2: Email:

Publication date: January 1, 2008


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