Philosophical Implications of Emergence

Authored by: Timothy O’Connor

The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science

Print publication date:  October  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415492447
eBook ISBN: 9780203803516
Adobe ISBN: 9781136634178


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Is there nothing new under the Sun? Consider the great variety of complex structures and patterns of activity that have appeared over time within the 13.7-billion-year-old universe – physical, chemical, and (much later) biological and psychological. Is there reason to say that all such systems are, at bottom, nothing more than atoms in motion? This question has been with us, unresolved, ever since the seventeenth century, when the strongly anti-reductionist philosophy of nature handed down from the ancient Greek Aristotle was displaced by the successes of the new mechanical philosophy. Aristotle theorized that plants and animals are irreducible wholes whose behavior is governed in part by organizing principles wholly separate from those governing inanimate matter. By contrast, according to the mechanical philosophy, all physical processes (whether in or out of living systems) are describable and predictable, in principle, in terms of laws of motion governing their basic parts.

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