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Durham University

Durham Emergence Project


Is there a coherent and plausible approach to strong emergence in terms of individuation?


Peter Wyss

Project Description

The idea of ‘strong’ emergence is often understood in terms of ‘downward causation’. But it can also be understood in terms of novelty and identity. An emergent would be an entity that is characterised as new in the sense of having a distinctive and irreducible identity as the entity that it is, and perhaps also as the kind of entity that it exemplifies. For instance, a piece of organised matter in which vitality emerges, is now also a living organism. While an organism certainly continues to be such a material complex, it is now identified as something else, or something further. This idea not only rehabilitates the somewhat overlooked notion of novelty, it also suggests a thoroughly ontological criterion for emergence. It focuses on the distinctness of emergents, or on what makes them stand out, and hence also on the reasons for finding such items epistemically interesting. To think in terms of identity and individuation does justice to the sense that emergents are in some sense fundamental or ontologically basic.


(2018) 'Emergence: Inexplicable but Explanatory' In E. Vintiadis and C. Mekios (eds.), Brute Facts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Presentation at a workshop in Durham (2015)