Developing the explanatory dimensions of part–whole realization

Philosophical Studies 173 (12):3347-3368 (2016)
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I use Carl Gillett’s much heralded dimensioned theory of realization as a platform to develop a plausible part–whole theory. I begin with some basic desiderata for a theory of realization that its key terms should be defined and that it should be explanatory. I then argue that Gillett’s original theory violates these conditions because its explanatory force rests upon an unspecified “in virtue of” relation. I then examine Gillett’s later version that appeals instead to theoretical terms tied to “mechanisms.” Yet I argue that it too violates the desiderata, since it defines realization for mechanisms in terms of two undefined ideas whose explanatory credentials have not been established—“implementation” and “grounds.” Thus I drop those ideas in favor of an explicit constraint that the parts and properties provide a mechanistic explanation. I also distinguish a special mechanistic theory from a preferred general theory that incorporates other kinds of part–whole explanations that target causal powers or capacities. The result is a theory that has the explanatory virtues of mechanistic theories as well as a broader scope desired by Gillett. I also compare the result to a similar idea from Robert Cummins that has been neglected in recent discussions of realization, namely, his general property analysis rather than his functional analysis. Finally, I defend the preferred general theory against possible objections that attempt to show a conflict between metaphysical demands on a theory of realization versus facts about good scientific explanation.
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