Physicalism and the fallacy of composition

Philosophical Quarterly 49 (200):332-43 (1999)
A mutation alters the hemoglobin in some members of a species of antelope, and as a result the members fare better at high altitudes than their conspecifics do; so high-altitude foraging areas become open to them that are closed to their conspecifics; they thrive, reproduce at a greater rate, and the gene for altered hemoglobin spreads further through the gene pool of the species. That sounds like a classic example (owed to Karen Neander, 1995) of a causal chain traced by evolutionary biology. But a view now nearly universal among philosophers maintains that such biological causation is always shadowed, perhaps even rivaled, by causation on a different level.1 That the subgroup of antelopes forages in areas closed to the conspecifics is a state of affairs embodied or realized, notes this view, in certain movements and state changes done by certain physical microparticles—untold billions of microparticles and movements, but a finite and determinate (more on this below) collection nevertheless. That the subgroup reproduces at a greater rate is likewise realized by a huge collection of microparticle movements, a different collection. And the microparticle happenings comprised in the first collection are causally responsible, strictly in accordance with the laws of microphysics, for the microparticle happenings in the second. Biological causation is always shadowed, perhaps even rivaled, by causation on the level of microphysics. The view I mean is general: any case of causing uncovered by any of the special sciences can be recaptured at the level of microphysics. This view is I think what most philosophers mean by “physicalism”; in any case, “physicalism” is the label I shall use. Physicalism comes in two forms. Modest physicalism holds that any causal transaction reported by the special sciences can be retraced by microphysics.2 Hegemonic physicalism holds that retracing such a transaction at the level of..
Keywords Causation  Metaphysics  Physicalism
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 13,029
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA
Donald Davidson (1967). Causal Relations. Journal of Philosophy 64 (21):691-703.
Jaegwon Kim (1989). The Myth of Non-Reductive Materialism. Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 63 (3):31-47.

View all 9 references

Citations of this work BETA
Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

50 ( #39,010 of 1,410,463 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

22 ( #9,923 of 1,410,463 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.