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Emergence vs. Reductionism in the Debate over the Role of Biology in Politics

  • Troy Duster (a1)

Abstract

In the ongoing debate about how and whether biology can contribute to the discipline of political science and thus possibly enhance explanations of political behavior, the focus has been on the role of reductionism. In the Hibbing paper, for example, the question is framed as who is more reductionist—those wishing to incorporate biology or those ‘environmentalist determinists’ who reject biological research? Yet this framing misses one of the most fundamental aspects of scientific theorizing, namely, the vital distinction between reductionism and emergence. Shifting the lens to the emergent properties of behavior raises a different kind of concern: under what conditions do the competing perspectives on the various factors produce an explanation of an emergent outcome. Using Philip Anderson's example from particle physics, there are many phenomena and behaviors that can only emerge from an interaction of elements. Examining two inert chemicals kept apart cannot explain the complex interaction effect of an explosion when those chemicals come together. Now the question is no longer who is the most reductionist, but who is best positioned to explain “political explosions” that otherwise seem to come from nowhere when isolated political elements lay inert side-by-side.

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Emergence vs. Reductionism in the Debate over the Role of Biology in Politics

  • Troy Duster (a1)

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