Supervenience and the problem of downward causation

Manuscrito 25 (3):251-270 (2002)
It seems that higher-level, nonbasic properties can only manifest their causal powers by exerting causal influence on lower-level, physically basic phenomena in the first place. A very influential line of reasoning conceives of this form of downward causation as either reducible to causation by physical properties or as ultimately untenable, because incompatible with the causal closure of physical reality. The paper argues that this is not so. It examines, first, why it is that a recent attempt by Noordhof to substantiate the notion of supervenient causation in a nonreductive framework fails. The upshot of this examination is the claim that any attempted specification of the most basic causal factors which supposedly underlie a causal transaction cannot account for the counterfactually necessary connections with the effect in question. By contrast, the specification of these factors at a higher level would allow establishing such connections. The paper closes with a discussion of how this view of autonomous causation at the higher-level can coexist with the notion of a complete specification of the causes of any physical effect exclusively in physical terms
Keywords Causation  Metaphysics  Mind  Physicalism  Supervenience
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