What’s So Bad about Overdetermination?
Sider (Ted)
Source: Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 67, 2003, 719-726
Paper - Abstract

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A response to

Author’s Introduction (extracts)
  1. In many cases it is natural to speak of an effect E as being caused by each of two intimately related entities: [… snip …]. The intimate relationship between X and Y consists in the existence of (metaphysically) necessary truths correlating their occurrences / existences / instantiations.
  2. E would be in some sense “overdetermined” if caused by both X and Y. Some philosophers say this would be bad, that this cannot or does not happen, that we should construct theories ruling it out, at least in certain cases. But why? Given the necessary truths correlating objects and their parts, objects and events concerning those objects, physical and supervenient mental properties, and so on, X and Y do both seem to be causes of E. Should we say
    … that a baseball caused a certain window to shatter? Or
    … that the parts of the ball caused the window to shatter? Or
    … that the event of the ball’s striking the window caused the window to shatter? Or
    … that the fact that the ball struck the window caused the window to shatter? Or
    … something else?
    One wants to say all of these things! That is certainly the natural view. What is supposed to be the problem with overdetermination?
  3. In his excellent new book "Merricks (Trenton) - Objects and Persons", Trenton Merricks claims that no non-living macroscopic physical objects exist. There exist no mountains or oceans, no tables or chairs, no baseballs or windows. While similar theses have been defended by others, Merricks’s defense is novel and important. What is new is a focus on causation1 and overdetermination. The main argument is, in short, that if baseballs or other non-living macro-objects existed, they would overdetermine their effects (for example shatterings of windows) since those effects would also be caused by their microscopic parts; those effects are not overdetermined; therefore non-living macro-entities do not exist.


See Link. See also "Sider (Ted) - Review of Trenton Merricks' 'Objects and Persons'".

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