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Essentialism and Scientific Reductionism

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  • Essentialism and Scientific Reductionism

    Hey all! Need some help.

    Essentialism makes great intuitive sense to me. But what I don't understand is why the "essence" of a being can't be defined by the fundamental particles that comprise it.

    I can only think of a few reasons why substances would not be defined by their constituent parts:
    • If the number of combinations of fundamental particles don't allow for the diversity of substances that we experience.
    • If substances exhibit characteristics that can't be accounted for by the fundamental particles that make it up (example: If mass of particle is 10, but is comprised of two particles that weigh 2 units each). Clearly, there would be "something else" going on besides the fundamental particles
    Wanted to get your thoughts on other reasons why. I'm not totally convinced by my reasons.

    Appreciate your time and consideration!

  • #2
    Originally posted by bcirka View Post
    combinations of fundamental particles don't allow for the diversity of substances that we experience...Wanted to get your thoughts on other reasons why. I'm not totally convinced by my reasons
    That's a good reason. Be convinced! For the essence accounts also for the unity of the thing, but we can't get one from a cloud of many.

    Consider Democritus's opinion as reported by Aristotle: 'One thing cannot be made out of two nor two out of one.'

    Democritus meant something which may appear quite trivial, viz., that the number two is exactly the same as one plus one, so that to say 1 + 1 = 2 is just another way of saying 1 + 1 = 1 + 1. Two, then, is nothing new over and above one and one. Though Democritus is the first to put it so clearly, the same idea was already held by Thales, who believed that numbers were actually just heaps, or, as one would say today, mere classes or bundles. - Charles DeKoninck the hollow universe

    But if they are heaps, then how can we explain the diverse qualities of numbers, such as that two is even but not three? Or three is prime but not four? Whence comes primality if two is nothing over and above one and one?

    As for beings of reason, so for real being: we can’t get one atom from many particles; nor one molecule from many atoms; nor one living living cell from many lifeless molecules, nor a rational animal, from many subrational cells, if “two is nothing over and above one and one”
    Last edited by Awostenberg; 09-09-2019, 02:49 AM.

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    • #3
      I would have to be eliminativist of so many basic human faculties like reason, sight, private experience, if I were to reduce them all to the powers of basic particles. The simple unity of each of these experiential faculties (what it is like to deduce a conclusion from its premises, what it is like to see red, what it is like to privately reflect on thoughts) and their subsequent joining together into a coherent single self also convinces me that we are more than complexes of particles.

      Or I could entertain some sort of panpsychism where the particles have these powers to a minimal degree and can compile into a single unity when gathered in certain formations. But this seems unlikely and I do think there's a unity problem with panpsychism--why are we convincingly one thing, one self, one conscious being, instead of a collection of smaller idiotic conscious particles?
      Last edited by RomanJoe; 09-09-2019, 05:33 AM.

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      • #4
        Is anyone aware of literature that has approached this subject with rigor? I've looked in Feser's works as well as Oderberg's Real Essentialism, but they seem to dismiss the idea with only a few paragraphs. Yet, I feel that the majority of the materialist western world would advance a reductionist opinion if asked the question. Just hoping to find a more systematic approach to the problem to help explain to others.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by bcirka View Post
          Is anyone aware of literature that has approached this subject with rigor? I've looked in Feser's works as well as Oderberg's Real Essentialism, but they seem to dismiss the idea with only a few paragraphs. Yet, I feel that the majority of the materialist western world would advance a reductionist opinion if asked the question. Just hoping to find a more systematic approach to the problem to help explain to others.
          Do you have the book? This is generally the work recommended, though other authors mentioned who accept essentialism are Kripke and Putnam, though they approach the essential natures through properties in possible worlds (Don´t think that it´s important, though Feser mentioned that as "getting it backwards". Once again, don´t think that is important.) Kripke´s "Names and Necessity", I don´t know which work from Putnam specifically.
          Others highly critical of the reductionistic mission are Thomas Nagel and Raymond Tallis.
          Also, I don´t know if you read those posts by Feser, but his serieses on Rosenbergs "Atheist Guide to Reality" and Nagels "Mind and Cosmos" are among the greatest things he ever posted:
          https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/201...g-roundup.html
          https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/201...s-roundup.html

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          • #6
            Brian Ellis' Scientific Essentialism is essential reading for this topic. Ellis himself is not a theist and very focused on scientific realism, so makes a nice alternative to all the Thomist stuff.

            The difference between the modern possible worlds approach to essentialism and the Aristotelian is that the former uses 'essential property' as synonymous with 'necessary property', whereas Aristotelians take something essence to be the necessary property that distinguishes a kind from all other kinds.

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            • #7
              Thanks so much for the recommendations all! I'll take a look at these resources!!!

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