The mechanisms of emergence

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 34 (2):260-282 (2004)

Abstract

This article focuses on emergence in social systems. The author begins by proposing a new tool to explore the mechanisms of social emergence: multi agent–based computer simulation. He then draws on philosophy of mind to develop an account of social emergence that raises potential problems for the methodological individualism of both social mechanism and of multi agent simulation. He then draws on various complexity concepts to propose a set of criteria whereby one can determine whether a given social mechanism generates emergent properties, in the sense that their explanation cannot be reduced to a mechanistic account of individuals and their interactions. This combined account helps to resolve the competing claims of methodological individualists and social realists. The author’s conclusion is that the scope of mechanistic explanation may be limited due to the extreme complexity of many social systems. Key Words: emergence • mechanism • computer simulation • methodological individualism • social realism.

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