Aristotle, Aquinas & Emergence

I was asked to write an article relating the teaching of Aquinas to contemporary science for the journal Scientia et Fides. I decided to use and further develop the material contained in my doctoral dissertation. I expanded my reinterpretation of the classical notion of emergence, with its emphasis on the role of downward causation, in terms of the fourfold notion of causation in Aristotle and Aquinas, and the theory of divine action offered by the latter. The PDF version of the article is available HERE.

Abstract of the article:

One of the main challenges of the nonreductionist approach to complex structures and phenomena in philosophy of biology is its defense of the plausibility of the theory of emergence and downward causation. The tension between remaining faithful to the rules of physicalism and physical causal closure, while defending the novelty and distinctiveness of emergents from their basal constituents, makes the argumentation of many proponents of emergentism lacking in coherency and precision. In this article I aim at answering the suggestion of several thinkers to redefine emergence and downward causation in terms of the broader Aristotelian view of causation. In addition, I further develop this interdisciplinary conversation to include theological implications of emergentism, analyzed in reference to Aquinas’ understanding of divine action in terms of the same fourfold division of causes—bringing thus natural science, philosophy, and theology into creative and fruitful dialogue.

Keywords: emergence; downward causation; hylomorphism; teleology; Aristotle; Aquinas.

 

Metaphysics of Downward Causation

I have just finished writing my presentation for the conference on Agency and Quantum Physics in Innsbruck. I’m excited about it. This is the first time that I’m invited to give an hour long talk at the major session of an international conference. The conference begins on March 30th and ends on April 2nd. Here is the abstract of my paper:

Metaphysics of Downward Causation:
Nonreductionist Physicalism versus New Aristotelianism

Mariusz Tabaczek, O.P.

Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA

Abstract

Many proponents of methodological nonreductionism in contemporary science find the notion of downward causation (DC) a sine qua non of the strong (ontological) version of emergence (EM), which strives to give an account of the irreducible character of the complex levels of the organization of matter. But what for many is the essence of nonreductionist physicalism, carries with it quite a bevy of problematic issues, and becomes a stumbling block and an obstacle for those, who acknowledge the metaphysical and logical inconsistencies of the emergent theory based on the idea of DC. For how can physicalism be non-reductionist? How can DC be reconciled with the causal closure of physics? What do “higher” and “lower” levels refer to? What is causal in DC? What is being caused (acted upon)? What is the very nature of DC?

I will argue that the defense of DC requires from us a broader notion of causation, which goes beyond the efficient causes accepted and described in modern science. I want to argue in favor of the retrieval of formal causation in particular. Its acceptance not only makes EM and DC plausible, but also helps to overcome and replace Humean causation of events with the causation of living and non-living beings, explained in terms of their causal powers and dispositions. I hope to show, in the course of my presentation, that true non-reductionism needs to be philosophically grounded. Yet it can still remain compatible with science provided it values and is open to the reflection offered by philosophy of nature. My position follows new Aristotelianism developed within the analytic tradition, although an explicit reintroduction of formal cause goes beyond it to the original thought of Aristotle.