The Rational Enterprise: Logos in Plato's Theaetetus

By Rosemary Desjardins | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B
EMERGENCE

The main thrust of theories of emergence in the twentieth century has been directed towards the evolution of the organic from the inorganic, the conscious from the non-conscious, and the mental from the physical. There have been arguments that develop analogies with chemical synthesis, as well as emergentist classifications that structure the universe from elementary particles to complex social systems. The appeal of emergence derives in part from the fact that it seems to offer an alternative to dualism; 1 but, as in the Theaetetus, controversy revolves around the relation between that which is said to emerge and that out of which it is said to emerge. For, whether the focus is on emergent entities (as, for example, in much of the discussion in the 1920s involving C. Lloyd Morgan: 1922, 1926; and A.0. Lovejoy: 1926), emergent properties (as, for example, in the work of C.D. Broad: 1925; P. Henle: 1942; and A. Pap: 1952), or emergent laws (as, for example, in the arguments of P. Meehl and W. Sellars: 1956; and P. Oppenheim and H. Putnam: 1958), an emergentist position characteristically stresses novelty as contrasted with that out of which the novel emerges. Confronted, however, with the task of clarifying this central concept, different positions offer different interpretations of what is implied by novelty in the context of explanation, causality, and predictability. This is, perhaps, where Plato's discussion of logos both touches, and departs from, contemporary approaches.

At one extreme, at least in this century, there have been those who, insisting on the inexplicability of emergence, resort to talk of uncertain or puzzling factors such as the "essence of entelechy" 2 or "the life and mind of a world organism." 3 A strong version of this approach finds expression in S. Alexander's claim that "the existence of emergent qualities is... to be accepted with the 'natural piety' of the investigator. It admits of no explanation." 4 Not surprisingly, this kind of attitude has been emphatically rejected by other emergentists, even by some who assert emergence at levels all the way from inorganic elements to complex social units. Thus W.M. Wheeler ( 1926) insists that "the

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