Emergence may be the key ontological topic of our time. The notion of emergent properties is not a new one, but there seems to be more technical work on the concept than ever before. This blog tracks my ongoing information-gathering and commentary on the philosophical, ideological, and social issues surrounding emergence, and constitutes one segment of a larger project. I make no pretense of contributing to the technical development of emergentist formulations. My focus is on the historical reconstruction and the philosophical and ideological role of emergentism in the social ecology of ideas.

Curiously, much of the literature on the subject—including encyclopedia articles—is spotty and heavily biased in citing its history.  In standard reference sources there is a focus on the British emergentists, and no mention at all of Hegel, Engels, or any Soviet work.  Part of this I think is due to the provincialism of Anglo-American philosophy.  Another failure of the literature is to make a clear distinction between the mystical idealist versions of emergentism and emergent materialism. 

While I believe in the fruitfulness of emergent materialism, I remain wary of speculative/idealist/mystical constructions of the concept. I will also make reference to the increasing focus on “cosmic evolution” (especially in the more sensationalist popularizations of cosmology) at the one end and cognitive science / artificial intelligence at the other end of the scientific spectrum, which relate directly or indirectly to emergentism. Emergentism in its materialist role may provide resolutions to certain dilemmas while in its mystifying role create new problems. Tracking emergentism and its constellation of issues is another way of tracking the philosophical dualisms that pervade our intellectual culture and the legitimate and mystifying ways in which scientists and philosophers attempt to transcend them.

In line with the issue of mystification is the notion of alienated consciousness and social existence of technical specialists, which may be manifested in their intellectual work, and/or in the face they present to the general public. The widest social perspective pertains to the role of scientists, philosophers, and other intellectuals in the social division of labor as well the role of the intellectual disciplines themselves. Emergence thus fits as a component into my larger work in progress on the place of science and scientific ideologies in the cultural system as a whole since the Scientific Revolution. One tie-in is a novel interpretation and application of Marx’s early remarks on science. If there is any originality in this project, it is in the specific way I am attempting to relate all these elements.

This began as an edited compilation of a series of e-mails written for various discussion lists.  This will serve as raw material for a more coherent presentation at some point.  Identifying information of discussants other than myself has been almost entirely removed. Anyone wishing his/her name to be associated with quoted comments please inform me. This collective compilation begins with a big chunk of e-mails up to 25 February 2005.  Subsequent entries will be added individually, many also edited from various e-mails. (RD—27 Feb 2005)

This post inaugurates this blog in a standard blog format using real blogware. The above introduction was written 27 February 2005. My earlier experiment with the blog concept is rather messy, consisting of these web pages:

17 June 2006 - 3 February 2007

2 June 2005 -14 August 2005

23 Feb 2005 -3 June 2005

5 Nov 2004 -25 Feb 2005

Onsite Links

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Holistic Thought, New Age Obscurantism, Occultism, the Sciences, & Fascism

Philosophy and the Division of Labor: Selected Bibliography

The Autodidact Project Home Page

Offsite Links

Emergence - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Emergent Properties
(Stanford Enc. of Phil.)

(Dict. of Phil. of Mind)

Physicalism, non-reductive
(Dict. of Phil. of Mind)

Materialism, non-reductive
(Dict. of Phil. of Mind)

Naturalism, transcendental
(Dict. of Phil. of Mind)


Emergent property

(Dict. of the History of Ideas)

On emergence, levels, complexity and causation
(Online publications by Claus Emmeche)

Emergent Phenomenon Research Group: Emergent Phenomena


Marxism & Natural Science
(Marxists Internet Archive)

Psychology & Marxism
(Marxists Internet Archive)

Evald Ilyenkov Archive
(Marxists Internet Archive)

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