Emergence within social systems

Synthese 199 (3-4):7865-7887 (2021)
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Emergence is typically discussed in the context of mental properties or the properties of the natural sciences, and accounts of emergence within these contexts tend to look a certain way. The emergent property is taken to emerge instantaneously out of, or to be proximately caused by, complex interaction of colocated entities. Here, however, I focus on the properties instantiated by the elements of certain systems discussed in social ontology, such as being a five-dollar bill or a pawn-movement, and I suggest that these properties emerge in a distinctive way. They emerge in part because of a system that is far beyond and typically before the object that instantiates them. I characterize how emergence occurs in these cases, juxtaposing it with how emergence is typically discussed. I then consider whether their emergence is best framed as weak or strong as these notions are characterized in the literature, and I reveal what debates are central to answering this question. Though I will not resolve these debates, I do show a collection of views that would vindicate these properties as strongly emergent and downwardly causing.

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Kenneth Silver
Trinity College, Dublin


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