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Emergencein Sociology:Philosophyof TheorylR. Keith SawyerWashington UniversityMany accounts of the micro-macro link use the philosophical notionof emergence to argue that collective phenomena are collaborativelycreated by individuals yet are not reducible to explanation in termsof individuals. However, emergence has also been invoked by methodological individualists; they accept the existence of emergent socialproperties yet claim that such properties can be reduced to explanations in terms of individuals and their relationships. Thus, contemporary sociological uses of emergence are contradictory and unstable. This article clarifies this situation by developing an accountof emergence based in contemporary philosophy of mind. The philosophical account is used to evaluate contradictory sociological theories. Several unresolved issues facing theories of emergence in sociology are identified.THE SLIPPERY CONCEPT OF EMERGENCEThe relationship between the individual and the collective is one of themost fundamental issues in sociological theory. This relationship was acentral element in the theorizing of the 19th-century founders of sociology,including Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, and Marx, and was essential, ifimplicit, in many 20th-century sociological paradigms, including structural functionalism (Parsons [1937] 1949, 1951), exchange theory (Blau1964; Romans 1958; Romans 1961), and rational choice theory (Coleman1990). In recent years, this relationship has become known as the micromacro link (Alexander et al. 1987; Ruber 1991; Knorr-Cetina and Cicourel1981; Ritzer 2000).1During the preparation of this article, I was supported in part by a N ational Academyof Education Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. Direct correspondenceto Keith Sawyer,Program in Social Thought and Analysis, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri63130. E-mail: keith@keithsawyer.com@ 2001 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.0002-9602/2001/10703-0001 10.00AJS Volume107 Number3 (November2001): 551-85551

American J oumal of SociologyMany accounts of the micro-macro link use the philosophical notion ofemergence to argue that collective phenomena are collaboratively createdby individuals yet are not reducible to individual action (Archer 1995;Bhaskar [1979] 1998, 1982; Blau 1981; Edel 1959; Kontopoulos 1993;Mihata 1997; Parsons 1937; Porpora 1993; Smith 1997; Sztompka 1991;Whitmeyer 1994; Wisdom 1970). Most of these accounts argue that although only individuals exist, collectives possessemergent properties thatcannot be reduced to individual properties (cf. Brodbeck [1958] 1968).Thus, these accounts reject sociological realism and are methodologicallycollectivist. Other theorists make the stronger argument that emergencecan be used to ground sociological realism (Archer 1995; Bhaskar 1998).However, emergence has also been invoked by methodological individualists in sociology and economics. Methodological individualists accept the existence of emergent social properties, yet they claim that suchproperties can be reduced to explanations in terms of individuals andtheir relationships. Methodological individualism's focus on micro-tomacro processes is explicitly considered to be a study of how social properties emerge from individual action (Axelrod 1997, e.g., p. 4; Coleman1987, p. 171; 1990; Epstein and Axtell1996, e.g., pp. 6-20; Romans 1964a).For example, Romans argued that "emergence, and the nature of theproperties that emerge, are to be explained by psychological propositions,"and he claimed that he had demonstrated this reducibility in his 1961book Social Behavior (1964a, p. 229). These sociologists draw inspirationfrom economics, where emergence is conceived of as the process wherebyunintended macrosocial phenomena arise from the actions of many participating individuals (Rayek 1942, 1943, 1944; Menger [1883] 1963). Incontrast to sociologists who believe that emergence is incompatible withreductionist individualism-Iwill call them collectivist emergentists-individualistemergentists believe that macrosocial properties and lawscan be explained in terms of properties and laws about individuals andtheir relations.2Thus, contemporary sociological uses of emergence are contradictoryand unstable; two opposed sociological paradigms both invoke the conceptof emergence and draw opposed conclusions. The problem arises in part 2 Some sociologists define the micro- and macrolevels in terms of the size of social units(e.g., Munch and Smelser 1987, pp. 356-57; Ritzer 2000, pp. 499-505). However, bothindividualist and collectivist emergentists agree that the micro-macro debate must becouched in terms of relations between properties at multiple levels of analysis, not interms of group size, and this is consistent with the philosophical account I give in thesecond part of this five-part article. Because systems may have some properties thatare merely aggregative and others that are emergent, it does not make senseto speakof systems or structures as emergent, but only of properties of those systems (Archer1995, pp. 8-9; Wimsatt 1986, p. 260).552

Emergence in Sociologybecause sociologists have not developed an adequate account of emergence. In this article, I make an initial attempt to develop such a foundational account, with the goal of clarifying these different concepts ofsociological emergence. To do so, I will draw heavily on a long traditionof emergentism in the philosophy of science. Philosophical interest inemergence has gone in several cycles since the term was first coined in1875 by the philosopher G. H. Lewes; I focus on emergentist theoriesfrom the 1970s through the 1990s that have been inspired by developmentsin cognitive science. Although philosophical arguments about emergenceand reducibility have focused on the mind-brain relation, they can begeneralized to apply to any hierarchically ordered sets of properties, asnoted by many philosophers (Fodor 1989; Humphreys 1997, p. 3; Jacksonand Pettit 1992, p. 107; Kincaid 1997, p. 76; Yablo 1992, p. 247n5).Contemporary sociologists are not the first to be confused about emergentism. Throughout the long history of the usage of the term (see Sawyer,in press a), one finds comments on the confusion surrounding it (Broad1925, p. 59; Ede11959, p. 192; Kim 1992, p. 122). In the face of almosta century of confusion, it would be overly ambitious to resolve these issuesfor sociologists in a single article; this article should be viewed as an initialattempt to demonstrate the relevance of these philosophical debates tosociological theory, rather than as a conclusive solution. The article formatallows only the briefest of summary treatments of complex debates in thephilosophy of mind, and I necessarily brush over many subtle differencesin presenting what most philosophers of mind agree is the currentconsensus.I begin this article by summarizing this consensus. I then summarizethe two competing uses of emergence in sociology, beginning with individualist emergentism and then turning to collectivist emergentism. Inboth cases, I use arguments from the philosophy of mind to evaluate thesecompeting theories of emergence, and I conclude that none of these theories has adequately addressed all of the implications of the philosophicalaccount. I conclude the article by identifying several unresolved issuesfacing sociological theories of emergence.EMERGENCE IN PHILOSOPHYThe concept of emergence has a long history predating the 19th century(see Wheeler 1928), but the term was first used in 1875 by the philosopherGeorge Henry Lewes. In a critique of Hume's theory of causation, Lewes(1875) found it necessary to distinguish between two types of effects:resultants and emergents (e.g., 1875, p. 412). An emergent effect is notadditive, not predictable from knowledge of its components, and not de553

American J ournal of Sociologycomposable into those components. Lewes's classic example was of theformation of molecules from their component atoms; hydrogen and oxygenare the cause, and water is the effect-the properties of water are emergentfrom the combination of hydrogen and oxygen.These ideas were picked up by several British philosophers after WorldWar I-mostnotably by Morgan (1923) and Whitehead (1926). Emergentism in the 19205 rejected vitalism and dualism, accepting the materialist ontology that only physical matter existed. Higher-Ievel entities andproperties were grounded in and determined by the more basic propertiesof physical matter; this was referred to as superoenience. However, the19205 emergentists argued that when basic physical processes achieve acertain level of complexity of an appropriate kind, genuinely novel characteristics emerge; these emergent higher-Ievel properties could not, evenin theory, be predicted from a full and complete knowledge of the lowerlevel parts and their relations. Further, they could not be reduced toproperties of the parts and their relations, even though those propertiesare supervenient on and thus determined by the system of parts (Kim1993b, p. 134; Teller 1992, pp. 140-42).Philosophers of mind turned to emergence beginning in the 19605, following the cognitivist rejection of behaviorism. The cognitive revolutionreactivated a 19th-century debate between identity theorists and dualists.Identity theorists hold to the reductionist and eliminativist position thatthe mind is nothing more than the biological brain, and dualists hold thatthe mind and the brain are distinct. Emergence has been perceived as athird path between dualism and identity theory (Beckermann, Flohr, andKim 1992; Horgan 1993; Humphreys et al. 1997; Kim 1993a), and thisthird path is generally known as nonreductive materialism (Kim 1992).3N onreductive materialism holds that mental properties are not reducibleto physical ones (Davidson 1970; Fodor 1974) and may indeed have causalpower over the physical brain (Andersen et al. 2000; Heil and Mele 1993).Although nonreductive materialism is widely accepted, its acceptance isnot universal, and emergence continues to be debated in the philosophyof science, as indicated by several recent journal special issues (lntellectica1997, no.25; PhilosoPhical Studies, August 1999; Philosophy of Sciencesuppl., 1996). In fact, just as methodological individualists claim thatemergentism is compatible with their stance, some philosophers of sciencelikewise argue that emergentism is compatible with reductionism (e.g.,Kim 1993a; Wimsatt 1997).In the 19905, emergence became one of the core concepts in compuJ In philosophy of biology as well, the dominant view is emergent mechanism (Bechteland Richardson 1993)or physicalist antireductionism (Rosenberg 1997).Here I restrictmy arguments to the philosophy of mind, but the issuesare quite similar in both cases.554

Emergence in Sociologytational modeling of complex systems, including connectionism (Clark1997), artificial life (Brooks and Maes 1994; Langton 1994), and multiagentmodels of social systems (Gilbert and Conte 1995; Sawyer 2001a). In thisrecent formulation, emergent systems are complex dynamical systems thatdisplay behavior that cannot be predicted from a full and complete description of the component units of the system. Canonical examples ofemergence include traffic jams, the colonies of social insects, and birdflocks. For example, the V shape of the bird flock does not result fromone bird being selected as the leader, and the other birds lining up behindthe leader. Instead, each bird's behavior is based on its position relativeto nearby birds. The V shape is not planned or centrally determined; itemerges out of simple pair-interaction rules. The bird flock demonstratesone of the most striking features of emergent phenomena: higher-levelregularities are often the result of quite simple rules and local interactionsat the lower level.To elaborate these various theories of emergence, in the following Ibriefly summarize the current emergentist consensus position in the philosophy of mind. This nonreductive materialist argument is grounded inthe philosophy of science tradition and focuses on the terms, concepts,laws, and theories associated with a scientific discipline. In this tradition,the question of reductionism is not only an ontological question about theputative existence of higher levels of analysis, but it is often formulatedas a question about scientific laws, concepts, and terms: Can a law orconcept from psychology be reduced to a neurobiological law or concept?The nonreductive materialist argues that there are strong grounds forbelieving that this reduction is not possible, even though there is nothingin the universe other than physical matter. The argument is based onsupervenience, multiple realizability, and wild disjunction.SupervenienceMost sociologists, both individualists and collectivists, try to avoid hypostatizing or reifying social groups; they accept that the only real entitiesare individuals. This position is known as ontological individualism: theontological position that only individuals exist. The emergentist argumentof nonreductive materialism starts with a parallel ontological assumption:all that exists is physical matter. Because there is only physical matter,there are only physical events; thus, psychological events are the sameevents as neurophysiological events. This is known as the token identitythesis: any token psychological event is identical to a physical event. Tokenevent identity entails that emergent higher-Ievel properties superoene onthe system of lower-Ievel components (Davidson 1970; Fodor 1974; Kim1993b). Supervenience refers to a relation between two levels of analysis555

American J ournal of Sociologyand states that if two events are identical with respect to their descriptionsat the lower level, then they cannot differ at the higher level. If a collectionof lower-Ievel components with a given set of relations causes higher-Ievelproperty E to emerge at time t, then on every other occasion when thatsame collection of components in that same set of relations occurs, E willagain emerge. Note that this implies that an entity cannot change at ahigher level without also changing at the lower levels.Several philosophers of social science have suggested that the individual-collective relation is one of supervenience (Bhargava 1992, pp. 62-68;Currie 1984, p. 357; Kincaid 1997; MacDonald and Pettit 1981, pp.119-20, 144-45; MelIor 1982, p. 16; Pettit 1993, pp. 148-54). However,most of these philosophers have argued that supervenience is compatiblewith methodological individualism and that it does not entail the irreducibility of the social. In fact, philosophers of mind generally agree thatsupervenience alone is not an argument for irreducibility of the mental(Bunge 1977; Heil 1998; Heil 1999; Humphreys 1997; Margolis 1986;Wimsatt 1997, p. 373). Supervenience is compatible with the type identitythesis; that is, the claim that all higher-Ievel types or properties are identical to some type or property in the physical language. To develop anargument for irreducibility consistent with supervenience, philosophersof mind have elaborated the notions of multiple realizability and wilddisjunction.MultipleRealizability and Wild DisjunctionFodor's (1974) influential argument against reductionist physicalism isbased on the concept of types as natural kind terms and on a certainnotion of what counts as a scientific law. A law is a statement withinwhich the basic terms are natural kind terms of that science. To reducea law to the science of the lower level, a bridge law must be identifiedthat translates that law. To accomplish this, each of the natural kind termsof the higher-Ievel science must be translatable into natural kind termsof the lower-Ievel science.The crux of Fodor's argument is that there is no a priori reason tobelieve that this translation will be possible for any given pair of scientificdisciplines; whether or not such a reduction is possible must be determinedempirically. His argument is that a simple translation-inhis case, froma psychological term to some combination of neurobiological terms-maynot be possible. The argument is based on the notion of multiple realizability: the observation that although each mental state must be supervenient on some physical state, each token instance of that mental statemight be implemented, grounded, or realized by a different physical state.For example, the psychological term "pain" could be realized by a wide556

Emergence in Sociologyrange of different neurobiological terms and concepts, and each tokeninstance of "pain" might be realized by a different supervenience base.Multiple realizability is thus an account of how one could accept tokenidentity and yet reject type identity.Multiple realizability alone does not necessarily imply irreducibility; ifthere are only a few realizing states, or if those states display some commonfeatures, the reduction may not be problematic. However, reduction wouldbe difficult if the neurobiological equivalent of a psychological term werean otherwise unrelated combination of many neurobiological concepts andterms (see fig. I). Fodor termed such a realization wildly disjunctive. Ifa higher-Ievel property is realized by a wildly disjunctive set of lowerlevel properties, then the physical equivalent of a psychological law mustcontain wildly disjunctive terms. Fodor argued that a true scientific lawcannot have wildly disjunctive components and that wild disjunction thusimplied that there could be lawful relations among events, described inpsychological language, that would not be lawful relations in the languageof physics. Whether or not one holds to this definition of a law, it is clearlyof limited scientific usefulness to have laws with wildly disjunctive terms,because they provide only limited understanding of the phenomena; theyare of limited predictive usefulness, because they apply only to a specifictoken instance, whereas the higher-Ievellaw is likely to be more generallyapplicable. Such reductions can nonetheless be useful to explain exceptionsto the higher-levellaws; Fodor's argument explains why laws in sciencesother than physics always have exceptions.When supervenience is supplemented with the argument for wild disjunction-theobservation that a single higher-Ievel property might berealized by many different lower-level supervenience bases and that thesedifferent supervenience bases may have no lawful relations with one another-we have an account of emergence that shows why certain socialproperties and social laws may be irreducible. There may be a socialproperty that in each token instance is supervenient on a combination ofindividual properties, but each token instance of that property may berealized by a different combination of individual properties. Many socialproperties seem to work this way. The collective entity that has the socialproperty "being a church" also has a collection of individual propertiesassociated with each of its component members. For example, each individual In may hold properties "believing in Xn" or "intending Vn," wherethe sum total of such beliefs and intentions are (in some sense)constitutiveof the social property "being a church." Yet the property of "being achurch" can be realized by a wide range of individual beliefs and dispositions. The same is true of properties such as "being a family" and"being a collective movement." Microsocial properties are no less multiplyrealizable: examples include "being an argument," "being a conversation,"557

American Journal of SociologyHigher-IevellawDisjunctive properties ofS2XSIXPIX orP2xorP3x.PoX p]*XOrP2*XOrP3*XPn*Xreducing scienceFIG. 1.-Wilddisjunctionand the reduction of higher-Ievellawsand "being an act of discrimination." In fact, most social properties ofinterest to sociologists seem to have wildly disjunctive individual-Ieveldescriptions.Emergentism does not cl

facing sociological theories of emergence. EMERGENCE IN PHILOSOPHY The concept of emergence has a long history predating the 19th century (see Wheeler 1928), but the term was first used in 1875 by the philosopher George Henry Lewes. In a critique of Hume's theory of causation, Lewes

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