Earlier chapters have focused attention on the nature of social entities and their relation to social actors. In this chapter, we will pursue some of the conceptual and theoretical problems that emerge from these concerns. We will consider the idea of reductionism—the notion that social phenomena can be reduced to the actions and interactions of individuals. Here, we will also consider the notions of generativity and supervenience—the notion that social phenomena are “generated” by the actions and interactions of individuals, and nothing else.
The second largest theme in this chapter is the topic of emergence and relative explanatory autonomy. Do social phenomena have properties that cannot or need not be derived from the behavior of individuals after all? Are social outcomes “emergent” in some strong sense? Do facts about complexity imply that we cannot derive or predict social outcomes, no matter how much we know about the circumstances and actions of individuals? Is it possible to be a generativist without being forced to assume that social outcomes are predictable in principle?
AN ONTOLOGICAL DIAGRAM
Figure 4.1 provides an illustration of how the entities and processes of the social world might be arranged.
The first diagram, Figure 4.1 represents the social world as a set of layers of entities, processes, powers, and laws. Entities at L2 are composed of or caused by some set of entities and forces at L1. Likewise, L3 and L4. Arrows labeled with W indicate microfoundations for L2 facts based on L1 facts. Diamond- tipped arrows indicate the relation of generative dependence from one level ...