Thursday, August 21, 2014

Supervenience theory and the reflexivity problem

If something supervenes on the physical, we need to know why it supervenes. To say that it is just a brute fact that mental state X supervenes on physical state Y will not do. The reason is not hard to seek. If supervenience theory is true, then everything supervenes on the physical, and that would have to include the supervenience relation itself.  If everything supervenes on the physical plus a supervenience relation, then it is not quite true that everything supervenes on the physical. So we need an account as to why the supervenience relationship obtains, in order to avoid a reflexivity problem. 

7 comments:

William said...

So much of the supervenience debate depends on what is "physical." The issue is similar to what Paul Churchland once told me in San Diego years ago, that he can be a physicalist and still a Platonist.

Are physical laws physical? Not for some I guess. Are the laws of supervenience physical laws? Some might say yes. Does that make those laws physical?

Depends on what is considered "physical."

Victor Reppert said...

On the other hand, you could expand the physical to include souls, angels, and God. There have to be parameters, but what should those be?

William said...

Ah, the slippery slope (upwards, I think) once we leave reductive physicalism behind :)

Dan Gillson said...

Supervenience theory is needlessly confusing. I hate it, but I'll take a shot at the problem today anyways.

A supervenience relation is a modal relation, and modal relations are metaphysical, epistemological, or nomological, etc. If we need to provide an account for why a supervenience relation obtains, the account needs to be given in the appropriate modality. So, if the supervenience relation between A and B is metaphysical, we are giving the account in terms of metaphysics. E.g., if a thought x supervenes upon a neurological state y, we would account for the supervenience relation in terms of the metaphysical properties of x and y. As far as I understand it, supervenience isn't itself a relation between two sets of properties, but like I said, this supervenience confuses me. I could be wrong.

Dan Gillson said...

*this supervenience stuff confuses me.

IlĂ­on said...

"this supervenience stuff confuses me."

That's because it's senseless poofery/magick -- the purpose of which is to disguise the absurdity entailed by atheism that minds do not exist.

Dan Gillson said...

"That's because it's senseless poofery/magick -- the purpose of which is to disguise the absurdity entailed by atheism that minds do not exist." ... A lot of it is smoke and mirrors, and fanciful terminology, yeah. But I don't think that atheism is relevant to its purposes. In fact, given what little I know about supervenience theory, I don't see any inherent conflict between it and faith.