- A set of properties A supervenes1 upon another set B just in case no two things can differ with respect to A-properties without also differing with respect to their B-properties. In slogan form, “there cannot be an A-difference without a B-difference”.
- As we shall see, this slogan can be cashed out in many different ways. But to illustrate the basic idea, imagine that there is a perfect forger. Her copies of paintings not only fool the art dealers, but are in fact exact duplicates of the originals down to the precise placement of every molecule of pigment — indeed, down to every microphysical detail. Suppose that she produces such a copy of El Greco’s A View of Toledo. It is of course different from the original in various respects — it is a forgery, it was not painted by El Greco, it is worth quite a bit less at Sotheby’s, and so forth. But the forgery is also exactly like the original in other respects. It is the same shape, size, and weight. The surface of the canvas contains the same arrangements of colors and shapes — a blue rectangle here, a green swirl there. Indeed, it looks just the same, at least to a single viewer under identical lighting conditions and so forth. Perhaps it is even just as beautiful as the original, though that is more controversial.
- The properties that the forgery is guaranteed to share with the original are those that supervene2 upon its microphysical properties. Two paintings that are microphysically just alike are guaranteed to be just alike in the arrangement of colors and shapes on their canvases. That is, you cannot change the arrangement of colors and shapes on a painting’s canvas without changing its microphysical properties. This is just to say that the arrangement of colors and shapes supervenes3 on its microphysical properties.
- Supervenience4 is a central notion in analytic philosophy. It has been invoked in almost every corner of the field. For example,
- It has been claimed that aesthetic, moral, and mental properties supervene5 upon physical properties.
- It has also been claimed that modal truths supervene6 on non-modal ones, and that general truths supervene7 on particular truths.
- Further, supervenience8 has been used to distinguish various kinds of internalism and externalism, and to test claims of reducibility and conceptual analysis.
- Supervenience9 is related to but distinct from notions like grounding and ontological dependence. We directly address the relation between these notions in §3.5 (much of that section has been part of this entry since its initial publication in 2005).
→ 2.1 ‘Supervenience’10 as a Philosophical Term of Art
→ 2.2 Origin of the Term
- Supervenience11 and Other Relations
→ 3.1 The Modal Force of the Supervenience12 Relation
→ 3.2 Supervenience13 and Entailment
→ 3.3 Supervenience14 and Reduction
→ 3.4. Supervenience15 and Ontological Innocence
→ 3.5 Supervenience16, Grounding, and Ontological Dependence
→ 3.6 Supervenience17 and Realization
→ 3.7 Supervenience18 and Explanation
→ 3.8 Tallying Up
- Varieties of Supervenience19
→ 4.1 Weak and Strong Individual Supervenience20
→ 4.2 Regional Supervenience21
→ 4.3 Global Supervenience22
→ 4.4 Similarity Based Supervenience23
→ 4.5 Multiple Domain Supervenience24
→ 5.1 An Argumentative Strategy
→ 5.2 Internalism/Externalism
→ 5.3 Haecceitism
→ 5.4 Characterizing Physicalism
→ 5.5 Coincident Entities and the “Grounding Problem”
First published Mon Jul 25, 2005; substantive revision Wed Jan 10, 2018
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