Functionalism, superduperfunctionalism, and physicalism: lessons from supervenience

Synthese 193 (7):2205-2235 (2016)
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Philosophers almost universally believe that concepts of supervenience fail to satisfy the standards for physicalism because they offer mere property correlations that are left unexplained. They are thus compatible with non-physicalist accounts of those relations. Moreover, many philosophers not only prefer some kind of functional-role theory as a physically acceptable account of mind-body and other inter-level relations, but they use it as a form of “superdupervenience” to explain supervenience in a physically acceptable way. But I reject a central part of this common narrative. I argue that functional-role theories fail by the same standards for physicalism because they merely state without explaining how a physical property plays or occupies a functional role. They are thus compatible with non-physicalist accounts of that role-occupying relation. I also argue that one cannot redeploy functional-role theory at a deeper level to explain role occupation, specifically by iterating the role-occupant scheme. Instead, one must use part-whole structural and mechanistic explanations that differ from functional-role theory in important ways. These explanations represent a form of “superduperfunctionalism” that stand to functional-role theory as concepts of superdupervenience stand to concepts of supervenience.

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Ronald Endicott
North Carolina State University


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