emergent evolution

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.

emergent evolution

the distinctively social and cultural element in human evolution (see EVOLUTIONARY THEORY); those aspects of evolution that have carried human social evolution beyond merely physical and biological evolution, to social developments which are increasingly based primarily on CULTURE and cultural transformation. Compare SUPERORGANIC.

Emergent Evolution


an idealist concept that views development as the intermittent emergence of new and higher qualities—a process conditioned by the intervention of ideal forces. The concept came to maturity in the works of S. Alexander and of the British biologist and philosopher C. Lloyd Morgan.

Emergent evolution distinguishes between (1) quantitative changes, or “resultants,” which are defined by the algebraic sum of original properties, and (2) qualitative changes, or “emergents,” which cannot be reduced to the original properties and are in no way conditioned by material changes. With its gradation of “emergents,” the doctrine of emergent evolution may be said to deal with “levels of existence.” The number of levels of emergent evolution varies from three (matter, life, and psyche) to a score or more. The lowest level is interpreted as one that merely creates the necessary conditions for the emergence of a higher one. The nature of emergent evolution is both teleological and theological, inasmuch as certain ideal forces are said to constitute its moving force. Alexander, for example, views the moving force of emergent evolution as nisus—a striving toward something higher—and equates it with divinity as the goal of development.

In the materialist interpretation of some American philosophers, such as R. W. Sellars, W. Montague, and A. Lovejoy, “emergence” expresses the “inner dynamism” of nature. However, the abstract recognition of nature’s self-motion does not lead them beyond the metaphysical concept of development.


Bogomolov, A. S. Ideia razvitiia v burzhuaznoi filosofii XIX i XX vv. Moscow, 1962. Chapters 5, 8, and conclusion.
Morgan, T. G. Eksperimental’nye osnovy evoliutsii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.
Alexander, S. Space, Time and Deity, vols. 1–2, Leningrad, 1927.
Morgan, C. L. Emergent Evolution, 2nd ed. London, 1927.
Le Boutillier, C. Religious Values in the Philosophy of Emergent Evolution. New York, 1936.


References in periodicals archive ?
84-102; Gerben Groenewoud, "Augustine and Emergent Evolution," 103-18; Chris Gousmett, "Emergent Evolution, Augustine, Intelligent Design, and Miracles," 119-37; Harry Cook, "Creation and Becoming in Jacob Klapwijk's Theory of Emergence," 138-52.
In the system's emergent evolution, neither upward or downward causation nor the interaction between them can be simple, linear causation.
In developing a theory of emergent evolution, Klapwijk does so in the context of a deep belief in a biblical creation.