The Generalization Argument, Multiple Realization, and Special Science Properties

By Neil Campbell.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Kim’s supervenience/exclusion argument is designed to show that if nonreductive physicalists insist that mental properties are physically irreducible, their causal (and explanatory) status is pre-empted by the physical properties on which they supervene or depend. Numerous critics have responded to Kim’s argument by suggesting that the argument generalizes to all special science properties, and it is obviously absurd to deny the efficacy and legitimacy of all special science properties. After all, economic, sociological, anthropological and geological properties (to name just a few) all seem to be genuinely explanatory properties--or so the practitioners in these fields would maintain. Kim defends his position by pointing out that the argument does not necessarily have this implication since special science properties can be functionalized and thereby reduced to causally efficacious (and genuinely explanatory) microphysical properties. I argue that Kim’s reply ultimately affirms the worries of his critics because his approach leads to the elimination of special science properties from our ontology.

Keywords: Special Sciences, Supervenience/Exclusion, Reduction, Generalization Argument

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp.457-466. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 615.386KB).

Dr. Neil Campbell

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

My work deals with two central issues in the philosophy of mind. The first explores the problem of consciousness. We are conscious beings, yet we lack an adequate account of how the brain generates consciousness and it seems impossible to explain the subjective character of experience in physical terms. I am particularly interested in what these obstacles to understanding consciousness physically entail about the limits of physicalism—the view that human beings are entirely physical creatures. The second issue is the problem of mental causation. This concerns questions about how thoughts and desires in the mind can result in physical actions involving the body. I recently completed a book in which I argue that nonreductive versions of physicalism offer a viable account of mental causation without lapsing into a pernicious form of epiphenomenalism. A central part of this project involves distinguishing reason-giving as a distinct species of explanation from causal explanation.

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