Emergence and Reduction in the Social Sciences
Philosophy and Economics Witten Herdecke University Witten, Germany
The issue of social emergence in the social sciences has recently being the focus of much attention. Different social phenomena 'bubbles, organizations, impossibility results' have been identified as putative candidates for illustrating properly emergent social phenomena. Advocates of methodological individualism have shown an ambivalent attitude vis-à-vis social emergence, rejecting it on some occasions and embracing it in others. In this paper I will scrutinize the reasons for this ambivalence. I uphold three theses. First, I will argue that there are in fact two different notions of emergence weak and strong. Second, I will argue that only strong emergence is philosophically puzzling. Most examples used in the social sciences to support emergentism are examples of the rather inoffensive variety of weak emergence. Last but not least, I will argue that, once the distinction between weak and strong emergence is made, the ambivalence of methodological individualism vis-à-vis emergence can be eliminated: only the strong notion of emergence is incompatible with methodological individualism.