Stuart Kauffman’s metaphysics of the adjacent possible: A critique

Interdisciplinary Science Reviews 48 (1):49-61 (2023)
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Stuart Kauffman has, in recent writings, developed a thought-provoking and influential argument for strong emergence. The outcome is his Theory of the Adjacent Possible (TAP). According to TAP, the biosphere constitutes a non-physical domain qualitatively distinct from the physical domain. The biosphere exhibits strongly emergent properties such as agency, meaning, value and creativity that cannot, in principle, be reduced to the physical. In this paper, I argue that TAP includes various (explicit or implicit) metaphysical commitments: commitments to (1) scientific realism, (2) downward causation and teleology, and (3) modal realism. If TAP is to hang together as the kind of robust philosophical thesis it evidently aspires to be, it needs an account – an account that is currently absent – of its metaphysical commitments. It is however unclear how such an account can be developed since various dilemmas present themselves when one explores how subscribers to TAP might do so.

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Ragnar Van Der Merwe
University of Johannesburg


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