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Complex Systems: Philosophy


Complexity and the Philosophy of Science

Traditional philosophy of science has concentrated on philosophical issues arising from logical and conceptual problems of traditional scientific theories and practices. Accordingly, its philosophical pursuits were oriented until recently towards the analysis and clarification of epistemic problems issuing from the study of low complexity systems, i.e., systems with a relatively small number of weakly interacting components or a large number of components approaching equilibrium states.

Philosophical reflection on traditional science led to the elucidation of forms of explanation, causation, model making, and many other issues. In many cases these efforts achieved considerable success in clarifying and making intelligible the explanatory power of theories and the efficacy of their technological applications. The extension of these ideas to the phenomena that characterize complex system have faced difficult challenges due to the fact that they appear to involve non-traditional forms of causal action (final, circular, top-down causation, etc.) and the consideration of emergent properties and regularities which do not seem to be reducible to those operating at the level of the system’s components.


Articles on philosophical aspects of complexity are found in journals in the philosophy of science and in a wide range of scientific journals on a variety of disciplines. Try these guides and search tools.