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Essays in Philosophy

Volume 3, Issue 2, June 2002

Pragmatism and Neopragmatism

Charbel Niño El-Hani, Sami Pihlström
Pages 143-176

Emergence Theories and Pragmatic Realism

The tradition of pragmatism has, especially since Dewey, been characterized by a commitment to nonreductive naturalism. The notion of emergence, popular in the early decades of the twentieth century and currently re-emerging as a central concept in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind, may be useful in explicating that commitment. The present paper discusses the issue of the reality of emergent properties, drawing particular attention to a pragmatic way of approaching this issue. The reality of emergents can be defended as a pragmatically-useful ontological commitment; hence, pragmatism can be employed as a tool in the debate over the structure and reality of emergence. This strategy of justifying ontological commitments is examined through historical and systematic discussions of the pragmatist tradition. It turns out, among other things, that while classical pragmatists did not specify any technical notion of emergence in the contemporary sense, their non-reductively naturalist views are relevant to the more recent emergence discussions -- especially because they rejected the metaphysical realism typical of today’s ontologically-oriented emergence theories.

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