9 Apr 2009

Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory, 5. Emergent Evolution: C. L. Morgan, Clayton

by Corry Shores
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Philip Clayton

"Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory"

5. Emergent Evolution: C. L. Morgan

Darwin's theory followed a continuity principle. Changes happen gradually. There are not "jumps" in evolution. Emergentist C. L. Morgan, however, saw evolution as punctuated: "even a full reconstruction of evolution would not remove the basic stages or levels that are revealed in the evolutionary process." (10-11)

The underlying forces involved in evolution are immanent to its natural processes. These forces are not like Bergson's élan vital. But similarly to Bergson, Morgan held that "'creative evolution' produces continually novel types of evolution." (11c)

For Morgan, there are levels of reality. We should study nature in a way that seeks "novel properties at the level of a system taken as whole, properties that are not present in the parts of the system." (11d) Morgan offers these principles:
1) Each higher level involves more constituent complexity.
2) Reality is a process of development.
3) Reality is made of an ascending scale of levels of richness.
4) "the richest reality that we know lies at the apex of the pyramid of emergent evolution up to date." (12a)

Not only is each level richer, the stuff that makes them up is also richer and novel. But if substances are emergent, that would make his theory anti-monist. He could have instead characterized each higher level as containing different relations rather than different things.

So we can consider Morgan's theory to be a 'very strong' emergence. We can would call an emergentist theory very strong if it
a) individuates relational complexes,
b) ascribes reality to them through an ontology of relations,
c) ascribes causal powers and activity to them, and
d) treats them as individual substances in their own right.

We see such a position in William Hasker's emergent dualism [for more, see this entry that discusses his theory.] He theorizes that there is more than merely emergent properties involved in our emergent minds. Rather, there is an emergent individual with his own self-identity, who came from some specific brain and nervous system. (14a)

Clayton, Philip. "Conceptual Foundations of Emergence Theory." in The Re-Emergence of Emergence: The Emergentist Hypothesis from Science to Religion. Ed. Philip Clayton and Paul Davies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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