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Processes of LifeEssays in the Philosophy of Biology$
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John Dupré

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199691982

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691982.001.0001

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It is not Possible to Reduce Biological Explanations to Explanations in Chemistry and/or Physics 1

It is not Possible to Reduce Biological Explanations to Explanations in Chemistry and/or Physics 1

Chapter:
(p.128) 8 It is not Possible to Reduce Biological Explanations to Explanations in Chemistry and/or Physics1
Source:
Processes of Life
Author(s):

John Dupré

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691982.003.0009

This chapter argues that the traditional reductionist notion that complex systems, such as those found in biology, can be fully understood from a sufficiently detailed knowledge of their constituents is mistaken. Contrary to this idea, it is claimed that the properties of constituents cannot themselves be fully understood without a characterization of the larger system of which they are part. This thesis is elaborated through a defence of the concepts of emergence and of downward causation, causation acting from a system on its constituent parts. Going beyond a merely epistemological or methodological reading of the argument, it is proposed that even purely metaphysical understandings of reductionism such as those represented by supervenience theses are misguided.

Keywords:   reductionism, emergence, downward causation, supervenience

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