Journal Article

Non-reductive Physicalism and Degrees of Freedom

Jessica Wilson

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 61, issue 2, pages 279-311
Published in print June 2010 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online November 2009 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/axp040
Non-reductive Physicalism and Degrees of Freedom

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Some claim that Non-reductive Physicalism (NRP) is an unstable position, on grounds that NRP either collapses into reductive physicalism (contra Non-reduction), or expands into emergentism of a robust or ‘strong’ variety (contra Physicalism). I argue that this claim is unfounded, by attention to the notion of a degree of freedom—roughly, an independent parameter needed to characterize an entity as being in a state functionally relevant to its law-governed properties and behavior. I start by distinguishing three relations that may hold between the degrees of freedom needed to characterize certain special science entities, and those needed to characterize (systems consisting of) their composing physical (or physically acceptable) entities; these correspond to what I call ‘reductions’, ‘restrictions’, and ‘eliminations’ in degrees of freedom. I then argue that eliminations in degrees of freedom, in particular—when strictly fewer degrees of freedom are required to characterize certain special science entities than are required to characterize (systems consisting of) their composing physical (or physically acceptable) entities—provide a basis for making sense of how certain special science entities can be both physically acceptable and ontologically irreducible to physical entities.

Introduction

Degrees of Freedom and Special Science Entities 2.1

Degrees of freedom (DOF)

2.2

Reductions, restrictions, and eliminations in DOF 2.2.1

Rigid bodies and molecules

2.2.2

Statistical-mechanical aggregates

2.2.3

Quantum DOF in the classical limit

2.3

ei-level constraints and ei-level determination

DOF and Weak Emergence

The Physical Acceptability of Weakly Emergent Entities 4.1

Eliminations in DOF and ‘theory extraction’

4.2

An argument by induction for physical acceptability

The Ontological Irreducibility of Weakly Emergent Entities 5.1

The objection from theoretical deducibility 5.1.1

The response from different DOF

5.2

The objection from causal overdetermination 5.2.1

The response from the proper subset strategy

5.3

The objection from Ockham’s razor 5.3.1

The response from ontological relevance

5.3.2

The response from explanatory relevance

The Limits of Ontological Irreducibility

Concluding Remarks

Journal Article.  14415 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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