McLaughlin (Brian) & Bennett (Karen)
Source: Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2005-18
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. 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”.
  2. 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 duplicates2 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.
  3. The properties that the forgery is guaranteed to share with the original are those that supervene3 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 supervenes4 on its microphysical properties.
  4. Supervenience5 is a central notion in analytic philosophy. It has been invoked in almost every corner of the field. For example,
    1. It has been claimed that aesthetic, moral, and mental properties supervene6 upon physical properties.
    2. It has also been claimed that modal7 truths supervene8 on non-modal9 ones, and that general truths supervene10 on particular truths.
    3. Further, supervenience11 has been used to distinguish various kinds of internalism and externalism, and to test claims of reducibility and conceptual analysis.
  5. Supervenience12 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).

  1. Introduction
  2. History
    → 2.1 ‘Supervenience’13 as a Philosophical Term of Art
    → 2.2 Origin of the Term
  3. Supervenience14 and Other Relations
    → 3.1 The Modal15 Force of the Supervenience16 Relation
    → 3.2 Supervenience17 and Entailment
    → 3.3 Supervenience18 and Reduction
    → 3.4. Supervenience19 and Ontological Innocence
    → 3.5 Supervenience20, Grounding, and Ontological Dependence
    → 3.6 Supervenience21 and Realization
    → 3.7 Supervenience22 and Explanation
    → 3.8 Tallying Up
  4. Varieties of Supervenience23
    → 4.1 Weak and Strong Individual Supervenience24
    → 4.2 Regional Supervenience25
    → 4.3 Global Supervenience26
    → 4.4 Similarity Based Supervenience27
    → 4.5 Multiple Domain Supervenience28
  5. Applications
    → 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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