Multiple Realizability

In D. Borchert (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd edition. Thomson Gale, Macmillan Reference (2005)
Multiple realizability has been at the heart of debates about whether the mind reduces to the brain, or whether the items of a special science reduce to the items of a physical science. I analyze the two central notions implied by the concept of multiple realizability: "multiplicity," otherwise known as property variability, and "realizability." Beginning with the latter, I distinguish three broad conceptual traditions. The Mathematical Tradition equates realization with a form of mapping between objects. Generally speaking, x realizes (or is the realization of) y because elements of y map onto elements of x. The Logico-Semantic Tradition translates realization into a kind of intentional or semantic notion. Generally speaking, x realizes (or is the realization of) a term or concept y because x can be interpreted to meet the conditions for satisfying y. The Metaphysical Tradition views realization as a species of determination between objects. Generally speaking, x realizes (or is the realization of) y because x brings about or determines y. I then turn to the subject of property variability and define it in a formal way. I then conclude by discussing some debates over property identity and scientific theory reduction where the resulting notion of multiple realizability has played a central role, for example, whether the nonreductive consequences of multiple realizability can be circumvented by scientific theories framed in terms of narrow domain-specific properties, or wide disjunctive properties.
Keywords multiple realizability  realization
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