New semantics, physicalism and a posteriori necessity

The New Semantics (NS) introduced by Kripke and Putnam is often thought to block antiphysicalist arguments that involve an inference from an explanatory gap to a failure of supervenience. But this “NS Rebuttal” depends upon two assumptions that are shown to be dubious. First, it assumes that mental-kind terms are among the kinds of terms to which NS analysis is properly applied. However, there are important differences in this regard between the behavior of notions like ‘pain’ and notions like ‘water’, as Kripke himself has argued. Second, even on the assumption that NS analysis is appropriate to mental-kind terms, it is further assumed that this would block the anti-physicalist premise that an abiding and principled explanatory gap would entail a failure of metaphysical supervenience. But the paradigm examples of NS analysis show nothing of the sort. What they show is that there are a posteriori necessities (e.g., “water contains hydrogen”) that cannot be inferred from the sense of natural kind terms. But they do not show that such necessities cannot be derived from an adequate scientific understanding of the phenomena in question. Indeed, such derivations are often available with kinds like water, but seem unavailable with mental kinds like ‘pain’ and ‘belief’.
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