Supervenience Argument

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1 We would like to thank Ian Gold for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

2 We will abbreviate “strongly supervenes” to “supervenes” in the discussion to follow, as we are not discussing any other varieties of supervenience.

3 In PSNE the principle only says that all mental properties strongly supervene on “physical/biological” properties, but Kim, and we, are interested in formulating some minimal physicalist commitments, and a physicalist had better think that all properties strongly supervene on physical properties.

4 Curiously, the principle Kim calls “Closure” is not a closure principle. To say that the physical domain is causally closed, in the usual technical sense, would of course be to say that every cause of a physical event is also a physical event—not an implausible principle, to our mind. Kim, however, thinks that to assume the physical domain to be causally closed in the literal sense would be to beg the question that is at issue in his argument: it would be “like starting your argument with mind-body causation already ruled out, at least for nonreductivists” (PSNE, 51). We think this is incorrect, for reasons that will become evident in sections 5 and 6, but for now we will join Kim in assuming only the weaker principle that every physical event with a cause has a synchronous physical cause, and calling it “Closure”.

5 Kim prefers the term “exemplification”. See Kim (1976).

6 We shall not consider the possibility that events might be construed as “tropes”. For discussion see papers by Francesco Orilia and others in this volume.

7 If P is an n-place relation, then x is an ordered n-tuple of objects. A restriction to the schema in terms of the notion of metaphysical contingency is contemplated in note 27. We find this restriction acceptable but not necessary. Our schema is similar to what Kim (1976, 35) calls the “existence condition”, but not quite the same: see note 27.

8 This is Kim’s formulation exactly (PSNE, 42). Like Kim, we omit the word “sufficient” in the discussion to follow, but when we use the word “cause”, this should be understood as having an implicit “sufficient” in front of it.

9 This does not have exactly the same meaning as our SC I, but we assume that whatever additional import Kim’s “by” has is irrelevant to the arguments; the assumption that the cause of an event e is also the cause of any event subvening e suffices for the purpose for which Kim needs the principle he expresses using the word “by”—namely, deriving step (3) in the two versions of the argument below. Since Kim’s principle differs from our SC I only in being stronger than it (“x does A by B-ing” entails “x Bs”), and the weaker SC I can fill the same role in the argument, we think we can safely ignore Kim’s “by”.

10 See Marras 2007, section 3, for a discussion of related issues.

11 At the bottom of p. 39 and the top of p. 40 Kim gives a highly impressionistic argument involving counterfactuals and modal operators for the conclusion that c’s occurrence must have had “something to do with” e'. The argument is open to several different interpretations, which we cannot give here for lack of space. Here the conclusion we are invited to draw is that this “something” is the causal relation. The final step in the argument, then, appears to be a kind of inference to the best explanation.

12 Compare Papineau (1993, 22-23), who also endorses this principle, effectively giving it the same justification. Papineau correctly observes that Closure-Overdetermination together with the claim that every mental event causes some physical event implies that we must either accept the token (not type) identity of mental and physical events or reject Exclusion (he does not use these labels, but this is what his argument amounts to).

13 This is not exactly what Kim’s step (3) says: it says “M causes M* by causing its supervenience base P*” (p. 40, Kim’s italics), but see our note 9.

14 Or so Kim seems to think. If you think, as we do, that there are properties that are neither mental nor physical (say, biological properties), then you won’t agree that a pervasive epiphenomenalism is established yet. However, the argument goes through no matter what property—biological, chemical, aesthetic, whatever—is considered in place of M.

15 It might be suggested that, instead of SC II and No Overdetermination, Kim is tacitly appealing to Closure-Overdetermination, as we believe he is in his second argument (see below), to derive steps (5) and (7). However, there is no textual evidence for this. At pp. 41-42, where these steps are derived, Kim makes no mention of a causal closure principle (except parenthetically at the top of p. 42, to announce that Closure will later be applied to “disqualify M as a cause of [P]”—the step that according to us is unnecessary). What Kim does cite here is the fact that P is “at least nomologically sufficient” for M (quoted above), and it is clear that he thinks this is so because M supervenes on P. This, and Kim’s later remarks about supervenience precluding overdetermination (p. 48), is to us decisive evidence that SC II and No Overdetermination are the operative assumptions here.

16 There are, to be sure, other ways to complete the argument on Kim’s behalf, which are not implausible. The alternatives that come to mind, however, would have Kim appealing to the supervenience of M on P, whereas he insists that his second “completion is simpler than Completion 1” in part because “Supervenience is not needed as a premise” here (p. 44). The main alternative we can think of for Closure-Overdetermination is:

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