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Philosophy General

Metaphysical Emergence

by (author) Jessica M. Wilson

Oxford University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2021
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
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Both the special sciences and ordinary experience present us with a world of macro-entities - trees, birds, lakes, mountains, humans, houses, and sculptures, to name a few - which materially depend on lower-level configurations, but which are also distinct from and distinctively efficacious as compared to those configurations. This give rise to two key questions. First, what is metaphysical emergence, more precisely? Second, is there actually any metaphysical emergence? Metaphysical Emergence provides clear, compelling, and systematic answers to these questions. Wilson argues that there are two and only two forms of metaphysical emergence that make sense of the target cases: 'Weak' emergence, whereby a macro-entity or feature has a proper subset of the powers of its base-level configuration, and 'Strong' emergence, whereby a macro-entity or feature has a new power as compared to its base-level configuration. Given that the lower-level configurations are physical, Weak emergence unifies and accommodates diverse accounts of realization associated with varieties of non-reductive physicalism, whereas Strong emergence unifies and accommodates anti-physicalist views according to which there may be fundamentally novel features, forces, interactions, or laws at higher levels of compositional complexity. After defending each form of emergence from various objections, Wilson considers whether complex systems, ordinary objects, consciousness, and free will are actually either Weakly or Strongly metaphysically emergent. She argues that Weak emergence is quite common, and that Strong emergence, while in most cases at best a live empirical possibility, is instantiated for the important case of free will.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Jessica Wilson (Ph.D Cornell, 2001) is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Wilson's research focuses on general metaphysics, metaphysics of science and mind, philosophical methodology, and epistemology; she has published over 50 articles on these topics in top journals. In 2014, Wilson was a co-recipient of the Lebowitz Prize for Philosophical Achievement and Contribution.