Emergence: A New Approach to The Perennial Problem of The one and the Manyv


  • Joseph A. Bracken, S.J. Xavier University Cincinnati, OH.




Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Niklas Luhmann, Alfred North Whitehead, Colin Gunton, Stuart Kauffman.


Emergence, as a relatively new concept in the natural and social sciences, has multiple meanings. As an analogical philosophical concept which consciously resists the dialectical opposition of reductive physicalism and immaterial dualism for the understanding of physical reality, it presupposes an evolutionary world view which is open-ended in its mode of operation rather than conceptually closed. Within such an open-ended world view, the implicit paradigm for the dialectical relationship between the One and the Many will necessarily be different from the corresponding paradigm for that relation within a closed metaphysical system. The purpose of this article is to set forth an understanding of the relation between the One and the Many that rationally justifies an open-ended, process-oriented metaphysics which in turn confirms the proposed validity of that same paradigm for the understanding of physical reality from an evolutionary perspective. Hence, I first lay out the historical development of the classical paradigm for the One and the Many in Western philosophy and at the same time point to its residual deficiencies for a full explanation of physical reality. Then I sketch what I see as a new paradigm for understanding the relation between the One and the Many which does not prioritize either the One over the Many or the Many over the One but sees them as intrinsically interdependent for their existence and intelligibility. Finally, I apply this revised understanding of the relation between the One and the Many to analysis of the generic notion of emergence in the natural sciences. Further application of this new paradigm for the relation between the One and the Many within each of the natural sciences and within the social sciences and the humanities will inevitably involve many other individuals than the author.