Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Carol Cleland

Second Advisor

Graeme Forbes

Third Advisor

Robert Parson


Despite the fair amount of conceptual fuzziness currently associated with emergence, the concept has recently garnered attention in many fields as a framework for understanding complex systems. In this thesis, I examine various accounts of emergence in both scientific and philosophical literature and some of the major objections to the concept of emergence. Most accounts of emergence can be divided into those accounts which treat emergence as a metaphysical or ontological concept and those which treat emergence as merely epistemic. While metaphysical emergence provides a robust autonomy for higher-level phenomena, it faces some particularly strong metaphysical objections. Epistemic emergence avoids these metaphysical objections, but may be too weak to be of much interest to the philosopher or scientist. Finally, I will build upon Humphrey’s metaphysical account of emergence, and argue that this approach is both robust and that it can avoid many of the problems traditionally facing metaphysical emergence.