Chapter

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

John Dupré

in Processes of Life

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199691982
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191738111 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199691982.003.0009
It is not Possible to Reduce Biological Explanations to Explanations in Chemistry and/or Physics1

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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

Chapter.  7777 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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