Emergence (I)

(Methodos IX)

Marc Jacquinet

 

La production de la différence, chose contraire aux lois générales de la pensée, est rigoureusement parlant inexplicable.

André Lanlande [1]

 

« Nos différences devraient nous aider au lieu de nous opposer. Pour ma part, là comme partout, je ne crois qu’aux différences, non à l’uniformité. Et d’abord, parce que les premières sont les racines sans lesquelles l’arbre de liberté, la sève de la création et de la civilisation, se dessèchent ».

—- Albert Camus, Appel pour une trêve civile en Algérie (1956)

 

 

The notion of emergence is rather recent, in the form that is understood and debated nowadays; and one of the first figures behind the creation of the present concept is no one less than John Stuart Mill who distinguished two types of phenomena: mechanical and chemical.   With regard to the combination of causes, the former is a simple additive model of causes and effects while the latter implies a combinative or combinatory model of causes and effects which does not permit to simply add causes and consequences because the total consequences are more than just the mere summation of the individual effects.  This is what we call today emergent effects or perverse effects.  As Mill put it: 

 

All organised bodies are composed of parts, similar to those composing inorganic nature, and which have even themselves existed in an inorganic state; but the phenomena of life, which result from the juxtaposition of those parts in a certain manner, bear no analogy to any of the effects which would be produced by the action of the component substances considered as mere physical agents. To whatever degree we might imagine our knowledge of the properties of the several ingredients of a living body to be extended and perfected, it is certain that no mere summing up of the separate actions of those elements will ever amount to the action of the living body itself. (A System of Logic, 1843, Book III, Ch.6, §1)

 

I will develop further the notion of emergence in the second part of the thesis, especially in relation to the problem of causality, supervenience, and history and complexity.[2] Here I just want to give a prima facie definition of emergence that will be refined later on in the due chapters of the second part.

The notion of emergence, defined by C. Lloyd Morgan on the basis of the distinction made by John Stuart Mill as stated above, as “the orderly sequence, historically viewed, appears to present, from time to time, something genuinely new” (Morgan 1923, p. 1) continues to raise interest from distinct Scholars, namely in physics and the cognitive sciences (vide James Crutchfield) and also among economists (Fonseca 2001, Hodgson 1999 and Lawson 1997).

In the social sciences, and in economics in particular, the notion of emergence is related to the concept of complexity, radical uncertainty (Hodgson 1999, Loasby 1976) and maxime the theory of evolution.  It will be through the notion of emergence (and radical uncertainty) that I will proceed to an approximation between the evolutionary economic theory and history.  I am still at a level of abstraction that treats the problem of organization and its evolution.  Following Tony Lawson, we can admit that “an entity of aspect found at some level of organization can be said to be emergent if there is a sense in which it has arisen out of some “lower” level, being conditioned by and dependent upon, but not predictable from, the properties found at a lower level” (Lawson 1997, p. 176).[3]

 

            Nevertheless, from these considerations onwards, the research on the notion of emergence is yet at its inception, and my contribution is a modest one.  On the one hand, I relate the notion to the upsurge of technological innovations and to organizational changes (also called by some organizational innovations).  On the other hand, I try to build a model of the notion of emergence as a revelatory aspect of the limits of knowledge.  This point is related to the notion of ignorance, characterized by Brian Loasby (1976), knowledge (Dolfsma 2001, Loasby 2001) and radical uncertainty (Hodgson 1999a and b, 2001).

A way of developing a model is going in the direction of reality stratification (Lawson 1997, p. 62) or levels of reality outlined by B. Nicolescu (1994, 1998 and 2000).  We can consider a social and economic level, as a minimum.  And from there onwards, we can distinguish the local from the global and the fact that firms are or are not members of network further and further concentrated in a selective manner.


[1] Lalande, André (1930): Les illusions évolutionnistes. Paris: Alcan, p. 378.

[2] Supervenience is the principle that states the existence of a basic and foundational level of reality at th e micro level like the atom or the quarks and that any macro-phenomenon must be reduced necessarily to the basic level of explanation.  

[3] This text is also cited by Hodgson (1999).


Marc Jacquinet

https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1157-060X

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