Erica Onnis


Questioning, rather than solving, the problem of higher-level causation


In Metaphysical Emergence (2021), Jessica Wilson recognises the problem of higher-level causation as “the most pressing challenge to taking the appearances of emergent structure as genuine” (ivi: 39). Then, Wilson states that there are “two and only two strategies of response to this problem” (ivi: 40), and by illustrating them she describes her two schemas for Strong and Weak emergence. In this paper, I suggest that there might be an alternative strategy – not opposite, but different in kind – to approach this difficulty. As noticed by Wilson, the problem of higher-level causation was formulated and made central by Jeagwon Kim. Kim’s arguments, however, were grounded on distinct metaphysical principles – among others, the Alexander Dictum and its analysis in terms of causal powers (see Kim 1989, 1993, 2006). Rather than following Kim’s formulation and responding to the problem he raised on his own terms, a different approach may therefore be that of questioning the appropriateness of the metaphysical frame in which these arguments were originally grounded. The problem of higher-level causation, in other words, might be less “pressing” if ontological emergence were related to a less strict and univocal view of causal novelty and ontological relevance.

Date / Time / Place

June 21st / 15:00 / Aula Magna