Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Explaining supervenience

This paper appeared in Philosophical And Phenomenological Research Vol. LXII, No.2, March 2001, 253-281. Reprinted in Chalmers, D. (ed.) 2002: Philosophy of Mind: Contemporary and Classical Readings, Oxford University Press. Reprinted in Nagasawa. Y, Ludlow. P, and Stoljar, D. (ed.) 2004. There's Something about Mary: Essays on Frank Jackson's Knowledge Argument, MIT Press. Two Conceptions of the Physical Daniel Stoljar
Abstract: The debate over physicalism in philosophy of mind can be seen as concerning an inconsistent tetrad of theses: (1) if physicalism is true, a priori physicalism is true; (2) a priori physicalism is false; (3) if physicalism is false, epiphenomenalism is true; (4) epiphenomenalism is false. This paper argues that one may resolve the debate by distinguishing two conceptions of the physical: on the theory-based conception, it is plausible that (2) is true and (3) is false; on the object-based conception, it is plausible that (3) is true and (2) is false. The paper also defends and explores the version of physicalism that results from this strategy.
1. One way to view the contemporary debate in philosophy of mind over physicalism is to see it as being organized around an inconsistent tetrad of theses. These are:
(1) If physicalism is true, a priori physicalism is true.
(2) A priori physicalism is false.
(3) If physicalism is false, epiphenomenalism is true.
(4) Epiphenomenalism is false.
It is obvious of course that these theses are inconsistent: (1) and (2) entail that physicalism is false, while (3) and (4) entail that it is true. Barring ambiguity, therefore, one thing we know is that one of the theses is false. On the other hand, each of the theses has powerful considerations, or at least what seem initially to be powerful considerations, in its favor. (1) In support of (1) are considerations of supervenience, articulated most clearly in recent times by Frank Jackson and David Chalmers. A priori physicalism is a thesis with two parts. The first part-the physicalist part-is that the mental supervenes with metaphysical necessity on the physical. The second part-the a priori part-is that mental truths are a priori entailed by physical truths.
Many philosophers hold that supervenience stands in need of justification or explanation; Jackson and Chalmers argue that the project of justifying or explaining supervenience just is the project of making it plausible that there is an a priori entailment of the mental by the physical.

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