Emergence in Sociology: A Critique of Nonreductive Individualism

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 42 (2):188-223 (2012)
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Abstract

The emergentist position that R. Keith Sawyer has formulated, nonreductive individualism, contains three propositions. First, that social characteristics must always be realized in individuals; second, that it is nevertheless possible to understand social properties as irreducible; and third, that therefore it is possible to demonstrate how social properties are able to exercise independent causal influences on individuals and their properties. It is demonstrated that Sawyer is not able to meet an objection that Kim has formulated against the analogous position in the philosophy of mind. In his defense of the claim of irreducibility Sawyer refers to Fodor’s argument about multiple realizability, but this line of argument cannot preserve the claim for downward causation because Fodor’s claim for irreducibility rests on assumptions that are not compatible with a systematic formulation of downward causation. The article proposes a reading of Fodor’s argument that is consistent with individualism but not with nonreductive individualism

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