Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy (MCMP)

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Talk: George Ellis (University of Cape Town and The New Institute, Hamburg)

03.06.2022 14:00  – 16:00 

Location: Geschwister-Scholl-Platz 1, 80539 München - Raum F007


Complexity, Emergence, and Downward Causation: An Updated Version of Aristotle’s Forms of Causation


Physicists are used to thinking that only Efficient Causation matters in the world, and that that only occurs at the foundational physics level: what happens at higher emergent levels is purely derivative of efficient causation at the underlying physical levels. I will argue that rather we need to adopt an updated version of Aristotle’s four forms of causation, where 1) in accordance with claims by Denis Noble, efficient causation takes place at all emergent levels; 2) in addition, formal, material, and final causation take place; and 3) also abstract causation takes place – not all effects are caused by material entities. Note that I am not making historical claims abut what Aristotle said on these issues, but rather am considering how updating his approach to take more recent scientific discoveries into account provides a solid basis for understanding the confluence of upward and downward causation in physical, biological, and social systems, that allows emergent dynamics and agency to occur.


The talk is part of the FQXi Large Grant project The Epistemic Nature of Physical Laws: From Intelligent Agents to Quantum Gravity and Cosmology held by Daniele Oriti and Stephan Hartmann.