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Durham University

Durham Emergence Project


Causal Relata, Mental Causation and Causation


  • Michele Paolini Paoletti
  • Francesco Orilia
  • Marco Buzzoni
  • Cinzia Raffaelli

Project Description

Michele Paolini Paoletti started working on the relata of downward causation in October 2014, assuming as his working hypothesis that different conceptions of such relata - and of causation itself - lead to different evaluations of the possibility of downward causation from an emergentist perspective.

In particular, he reflected on Jaegwon Kim’s argument against the possibility of downward causation. He found out that, in Kim’s article Making Sense of Emergence (1999), there actually are two different, non-equivalent versions of this argument: one rests on the supposed transitivity of nomological sufficiency, the other on some formulation of the causal closure principle of the physical. The first version assumes that both causation and emergence are two different forms of nomological sufficiency. Since nomological sufficiency is a transitive relation, higher-level entities do not add anything new when they cause lower-level effects – anything new with respect to the causal contribution that is already provided by their emergence bases. The second version introduces a causal competition between downward causation and same-level causation at the fundamental micro-physical level of the universe, by roughly claiming that each micro-physical effect has (at least one) completely micro-physical sufficient cause. This version concludes that non-micro-physical, emergent causes cannot cause anything new.

He did not focus on the problem of providing an adequate formulation of the causal closure principle of the physical. He tried to criticize Kim’s assumptions on causation and its relata. More precisely, he argued that such assumptions are questionable whenever one aims at defining the causal powers possessed by entities (or conferred by properties) in terms of nomological sufficiency. Moreover, nomological sufficiency, as long as it is taken as the criterion to define causal powers’ ascriptions, has some troubles with transitivity. It seems that, while nomological sufficiency is transitive, powers’ ascription cannot be transitive. Otherwise, provided that the first micro-physical event in the history of the universe (presumably) was nomologically sufficient for all the other events, all the causal powers in the history of the universe were conferred by the property involved in that event! Finally, the properties involved in the emergence bases of emergent entities are really complex conjunctions of properties. Yet, Kim cannot simply assume that some conjunctions of properties confer causal powers, while others do not. An ontological explanation for this fact still has to be provided.

The P.I. has now published two books on emergence: The Quest for Emergence and Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives on Downwards Causation.

Italian website:


By Michele Paolini Paoletti:

(2018) 'Emergent Powers' Topoi 1-14.

(2018) 'Formulating Emergence' Ratio 31 (S1): 1-18.

(2017)' Three Grades of Downward Causation' (with Francesco Orilia) In Michele Paolini Paoletti & Francesco Orilia (eds.), Philosophical and Scientific Perspectives on Downward Causation, Routledge. pp. 25-41.

(2016) How I (freely) 'Raised My Arm. Downward, Structural, Substance Causation' Mind and Matter 14 (2): 203-228

(2016) 'How Powers Emerge from Relations' Axiomathes 26 (2): 187-204.

Presentations and Events

On February 19th, 2015 there was a workshop on emergent powers in Macerata. The speakers were Stephen Mumford, Michele Paolini Paoletti and John Pemberton. On May 21st, 2015 there was another workshop on agency and emergence. The speakers were Marco Buzzoni, Max Kistler Erasmus Mayr, Francesco Orilia. Finally, a conference on emergence and causation took place in Macerata in September 2015 (23–25). The speakers were: Stefano Catelan, Victor Gijsbergs, Carl Gillett, Simone Gozzano, Roegnvaldur Ingthorsson, John Heil, Robin F. Hendry, Stephan Leuenberger, Timothy O'Connor, Francesco Orilia, Michele Paolini Paoletti, and Robert Rupert. Three papers were selected after a Call for Papers.

A reading group on emergence had regular meetings twice a month from October 2014 to May 2015. Finally, a website ( was regularly updated with news on the project, on the events and on the reading group.