The claim that something is impossible in physics, like the reduction of a theory of a proclaimed emergent phenomenon to a more fundamental theory, carries an enormous burden of proof. A simple counterargument referencing the history of physics to have continuously defied such claims quickly comes to mind. The question of what precisely an anti-reductionist account of emergence could entail seems to be something that is most fruitfully considered case by case, improving our understanding of the concepts of emergence and reduction along the way. This will be the aim of this talk. Morrison (2012) claims to have given a physicalist anti-reductionist account of emergence, specifically considering the example of superconductivity. She signifies the spontaneous symmetry breaking, that occurs through the renormalization procedure from high-energy qft’s to low-energy qft’s, as the ontological story behind the emergent phenomena. Butterfield (2011) advocates a relaxed notion of ‘approximate’ Nagelian reduction, claiming that reduction, emergence, and supervenience are independent. It is on this understanding of the terms that he describes the Renormalization Group as a ‘family’ of approximate Nagelian reductions (2014)(Butterfield & Bouatta, 2013). In this talk, I will contrast these two accounts with a focus on uncovering the metaphysical and epistemological sources of disagreement. I will argue that Morrison and Butterfield do not only disagree on their physical interpretations of the Renormalization Group, but that they must have different accounts of explanation, its relevance to reduction and on what constitutes natural kinds.
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Philosophy of Physics Graduate Lunch Seminar Convenor: Caspar Jacobs