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Whole and parts (Philosophy), Metaphysics, Systems theory, Ontology, Emergence (Philosophy)


Ideas from systems theory - recursive unity and emergent attributes - are applied to the metaphysical and meta-metaphysical debates about the ontological status of composites. These ideas suggest the rejection of both extremes of universalism and nihilism, favoring instead the intermediate position that some composites exist in a nontrivial sense - those having unity and emergent novelty - while others do not. Systems theory is egalitarian: it posits that what exist are systems, equal in their ontological status. Some systems are fundamental, but what exists is not merely the fundamental, and the fundamental is not merely the foundational. The status of composites raises non-trivial issues, but mereology - and metaphysics in general - would benefit from substantive interaction with scientifically interesting questions.


Presented at the 66th Annual Northwest Philosophy Conference, November 7-8, 2014, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington.

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