Defending the piggyback principle against Shapiro and Sober’s empirical approach

Synthese 175 (2):151-168 (2010)
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Jaegwon Kim’s supervenience/exclusion argument attempts to show that non-reductive physicalism is incompatible with mental causation. This influential argument can be seen as relying on the following principle, which I call “the piggyback principle”: If, with respect to an effect, E, an instance of a supervenient property, A, has no causal powers over and above, or in addition to, those had by its supervenience base, B, then the instance of A does not cause E (unless A is identical with B). In their “Epiphenomenalism: The Dos and the Don’ts,” Larry Shapiro and Elliott Sober employ a novel empirical approach to challenge the piggyback principle. Their empirical approach pulls from the experiments of August Weismann regarding the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Through an examination of Weismann’s experiments, Shapiro and Sober extract lessons in reasoning about the epiphenomenalism of a property. And according to these empirically drawn lessons, the piggyback principle is a don’t. My primary aim in this paper is to defend the piggyback principle against Shapiro and Sober’s empirical approach.

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