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Physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that everything is, in some important sense, physical. But in what sense is everything physical? Must everything reduce to physics? Must all terms be translatable into physical terms? What does it take for something to count as ''physical''? This category contains works that relate to the question ''What is physicalism?’’. These works utilize a wide variety of tools and approaches in their attempts to spell out what physicalism is.

Key works "Hempel's dilemma'' (Hempel 1969, Crane & Mellor 1990) claims that no non-trivial formulation of physicalism can be given. In this vein, Stoljar 2010 argues that there is no thesis that is both potentially true and deserving of the name 'physicalism'.  Discussions of Hempel's dilemma can also be found in Dowell, J. L. 2006, Melnyk 1997, and Wilson 2006. All the above works, in addition to Stoljar 2001a, 2001b, Chalmers 2003 (section 7), and Wilson 2006 discuss what it takes for something to count as ''physical''. Classic statements of an early form of materialism, the mind-brain identity theory, can be found in Place 1956, Feigl 1958 and Smart 1959. Chalmers 1996, Jackson 1994, Kim 1993, and Lewis 1983 use the tools of metaphysical modality and supervenience to formulate physicalism. Wilson 2005 provides reasons to be skeptical of such accounts. Melnyk 2003, 2006 formulates physicalism using the notion of realization, while Leuenberger 2008 uses ceteris absentibus sufficiency. Chalmers 2003 provides a useful taxonomy of physicalist positions, organized with respect to how they respond to the hard problem of consciousness. Kim 1998 covers a variety of topics relevant to both formulating and evaluating physicalism, including supervenience, reductive vs non-reductive physicalism, and the causal closure of the physical.
Introductions Stoljar 2001, Stoljar 2010, and Dowell, J. L. 2006 are good starting places for the difficulties surrounding formulating physicalism. Smart 2007 offers an overview of the development of the mind-brain identity theory. Crane & Mellor 1990 contains a pressing formulation of Hempel's dilemma. Stoljar 2010 covers a wide variety of attempts to characterize ''the physical''.
Related categories

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  1. Description and Expression: Physicalism Restricted.Virgil Aldrich - 1977 - Inquiry 20 (1-4):149 – 164.
    'Material thing' is a two-level concept. In 'first-order extension' - the field of perceptual experience - it is a 'body' that may 'body forth' (show, express) a 'content', like the bodies of persons or pictures. In 'second-order extension' -the physical field or space - it is a 'physical object' whose micro-constitution is the target of the reference of theoretical terms or formulae. As such, it has no content - nothing to 'express'. In the description of a material thing in first-order (...)
  2. The Importance of Physicalism in the Philosophy of Religion.Leonard Angel - 2010 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 67 (3):141 - 156.
    First, some say that core physicalism is not anti-religion. I argue that this seems to be incorrect. Physical completeness is a core element of contemporary physicalism; (the evidence for physical completeness is strong); and physical completeness both logically and not strictly logically rejects many central religious views. Consequently, there is a sense in which core physicalism is, in an important way, anti-religion. Second, physical completeness positively supports one significant religious view; and physical completeness permits one to hold two others. The (...)
  3. Supervenience and Physicalism.Andrew R. Bailey - 1998 - Synthese 117 (1):53-73.
    Discussion of the supervenience relation in the philosophical literature of recent years has become Byzantine in its intricacy and diversity. Subtle modulations of the basic concept have been tooled and retooled with increasing frequency, until supervenience has lost nearly all its original lustre as a simple and powerful tool for cracking open refractory philosophical problems. I present a conceptual model of the supervenience relation that captures all the important extant concepts without ignoring the complexities uncovered during work over the past (...)
  4. Careful, Physicalists: Mind–Body Supervenience Can Be Too Superduper.Joseph A. Baltimore - 2013 - Theoria 79 (1):8-21.
    It has become evident that mind–body supervenience, as merely specifying a covariance between mental and physical properties, is consistent with clearly non-physicalist views of the mental, such as emergentism. Consequently, there is a push in the physicalist camp for an ontologically more robust supervenience, a “superdupervenience,” that ensures that properties supervening on physical properties are physicalistically acceptable. Jessica Wilson claims that supervenience is made superduper by Condition on Causal Powers (CCP): each individual causal power associated with a supervenient property is (...)
  5. Stoljar's Twin-Physics World.Joseph A. Baltimore - 2013 - Philosophia 41 (1):127-136.
    In his recent book Physicalism, Daniel Stoljar argues that there is no version of physicalism that is both true and deserving of the name. His argument employs a variation of Hilary Putnam’s famous twin-earth story, which Stoljar calls “the twin-physics world.” In this paper, I challenge Stoljar’s use of the twin-physics world. The upshot of that challenge, I argue, is that Stoljar fails to show, concerning the versions of physicalism for which he grants the possibility of being true, that none (...)
  6. Type Physicalism and Causal Exclusion.Joseph A. Baltimore - 2013 - Journal of Philosophical Research 38:405-418.
    While concerns of the mental being causally excluded by the physical have persistently plagued non-reductive physicalism, such concerns are standardly taken to pose no problem for reductive type physicalism. Type physicalists have the obvious advantage of being able to countenance the reduction of mental properties to their physical base properties by way of type identity, thereby avoiding any causal competition between instances of mental properties and their physical bases. Here, I challenge this widely accepted advantage of type physicalism over non-reductive (...)
  7. Hempel On Intertheoretic Reduction Winner Of The Gerritt And Edith Schipper Undergraduate Award For Outstanding Undergraduate Paper.David Barnett - 2002 - Florida Philosophical Review 2 (1):26-40.
    The question of whether all living things are really just complex physical ones, or whether instead there are biological entities or characteristics that cannot be fully characterized in physical terms, has historical roots buried centuries deep. Carl Hempel considers this question as an empirical one for modern science to address. Hempel’s concern is not with the answer to the question, but rather with the methods by which it may be evaluated. He considers the position of those he calls “mechanists,” that (...)
  8. Benedikt Paul Goecke, Ed., After Physicalism. Reviewed By.Matteo Benocci - 2015 - Philosophy in Review 35 (4):198-200.
    This is a review of After Phyiscalism (ed. B. P. Göcke, University of Notre Dame Press 2012), a collection of eleven essays addressing the mind-body problem from a non-physicalist point of view.
  9. Quantum Mechanics and the Plight of Physicalism.Fernando Birman - 2009 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 40 (2):207-225.
    The literature on physicalism often fails to elucidate, I think, what the word physical in physical ism precisely means. Philosophers speak at times of an ideal set of fundamental physical facts, or they stipulate that physical means non-mental , such that all fundamental physical facts are fundamental facts pertaining to the non-mental. In this article, I will probe physicalism in the very much tangible framework of quantum mechanics. Although this theory, unlike “ideal physics” or some “final theory of non-mentality”, is (...)
  10. "Review of" After Physicalism". [REVIEW]Robert Bishop - 2013 - Essays in Philosophy 14 (2):8.
  11. The Constraint Interpretation of Physical Emergence.James Blachowicz - 2013 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 44 (1):21-40.
    I develop a variant of the constraint interpretation of the emergence of purely physical (non-biological) entities, focusing on the principle of the non-derivability of actual physical states from possible physical states (physical laws) alone. While this is a necessary condition for any account of emergence, it is not sufficient, for it becomes trivial if not extended to types of constraint that specifically constitute physical entities, namely, those that individuate and differentiate them. Because physical organizations with these features are in fact (...)
  12. Discovery in the Physical Sciences.Richard J. Blackwell - 1969 - Notre Dame [Ind.]University of Notre Dame Press.
  13. The Canberra Plan Neglects Ground.Ned Block - 2015 - In Terence Horgan, Marcelo Sabates & David Sosa (eds.), Qualia and Mental Causation in a Physical World: Themes from the Philosophy of Jaegwon Kim,. Cambridge University Press. pp. 105-133.
    This paper argues that the “Canberra Plan” picture of physicalistic reduction of mind--a picture shared by both its proponents and opponents, philosophers as diverse as David Armstrong, David Chalmers Frank Jackson, Jaegwon Kim, Joe Levine and David Lewis--neglects ground (Fine, 2001, 2012). To the extent that the point of view endorsed by the Canberra Plan has an account of the physical/functional ground of mind at all, it is in one version trivial and in another version implausible. In its most general (...)
  14. A Note on the Definition of Physicalism.Ben Blumson & Weng Hong Tang - 2015 - Thought: A Journal of Philosophy 4 (1):10-18.
    Physicalism is incompatible with what is known as the possibility of zombies, that is, the possibility of a world physically like ours, but in which there are no conscious experiences. But it is compatible with what is known as the possibility of ghosts, that is, the possibility of a world which is physically like ours, but in which there are additional nonphysical entities. In this paper we argue that a revision to the traditional definition of physicalism designed to accommodate the (...)
  15. Hempel's Dilemma and Domains of Physics.P. Bokulich - 2011 - Analysis 71 (4):646-651.
    Hempel's Dilemma is the claim that physicalism is an ill-formed thesis because it can offer no account of the physics that it refers to: current physics will be discarded in the future, and we don't yet know the nature of future physics. This article confronts the first horn of the dilemma, and argues that our knowledge of current physics is sufficient for offering a physicalist ontology of the mind. We have good scientific evidence that future physics will be irrelevant to (...)
  16. A Physicalist Manifesto: Thoroughly Modern Materialism.A. Botterell - 2005 - Philosophical Review 114 (1):125-128.
    A review of Andrew Melnyk's _A Physicalist Manifesto_ (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).
  17. Analysis in Mind.Andrew Botterell - 1998 - Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    From the time of Descartes to about the 1960s, a certain epistemological idea dominated the philosophy of mind, namely the idea that theses about the relation between mind and body are, if true, a priori truths. Much of recent philosophy of mind is devoted to the question whether that idea is right. My research is largely an attempt to argue that some recent defenses of it are unsuccessful. ;For example, Physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that every actual psychological event, property, (...)
  18. Without Hierarchy: The Scale Freedom of the Universe By Mariam Thalos.George Botterill - 2014 - Analysis 74 (3):556-558.
  19. The Negative Characterisation Of Physicalism.Mark Bradley - 2006 - Philosophical Writings 32 (2).
    One recent attempt to capture the content of physicalism involves characterising it negatively in terms of the non-mental. This thesis is criticised on the grounds that it fails to provide a sufficient condition for an adequate characterisation of physicalism, since, from a global physicalist perspective, it has both nothing to say about other so-called non-physical entities and fails to exclude them from the fundamental entities that such an account must posit. This latter problem is also faced by a more local (...)
  20. On Difficulties Facing the Formulation of the Doctrine of Supervenience.Robin Brown - 2009 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 9 (2):191-200.
    The introductory section discusses supervenience and the role it plays in formulating contemporary physicalism. The section concludes with the definition of local supervenience used by Kim in the causal-exclusion argument. The second section outlines an abstract model for the analysis of supervenience, associating total mental states with total states of the nervous system. It is argued that Kim’s formulation confuses two orders of necessity: a metaphysical necessity attaching to the supervenience of the total mental state, and a nomological necessity attaching (...)
  21. Physicalism, Supervenience and the Fundamental Level.Robin Brown & James Ladyman - 2009 - Philosophical Quarterly 59 (234):20-38.
    We provide a formulation of physicalism, and show that this is to be favoured over alternative formulations. Much of the literature on physicalism assumes without argument that there is a fundamental level to reality, and we show that a consideration of the levels problem and its implications for physicalism tells in favour of the form of physicalism proposed here. Its hey elements are, fast, that the empirical and substantive part of physicalism amounts to a prediction that physics will not posit (...)
  22. Supervenience – A Question About a Triviality.Blazej Brzostek - 2011 - Avant: Trends in Interdisciplinary Studies 2 (2):93-94.
    When it comes to the mind-body problem, different kinds of physicalism were themost popular approaches among philosophers. The presence of anomalous monismwith its lack of laws concerning mental events and multiple realizability led toa doubt regarding reductionism and a slow movement away from it. It did not,however, weaken the popularity of physicalism. Thus, the problem that had to befaced was to create such a form of physicalism that would reject the reduction ofwhat was mental to what was physical. No difference (...)
  23. Dr. Von Juhos and Physicalism.Justus Buchler - 1935 - Analysis 3 (6):88 - 92.
  24. Physicalism, the Natural Sciences, and Naturalism.Lawrence Cahoone - 2013 - Philo 16 (2):130-144.
    The most common definitions of the physical lead to a problem for physicalism. If the physical is the objects of physics, then unique objects of other sciences are not physical and, if the causal closure of the physical is accepted, cannot cause changes in the physical. That means unique objects of chemistry, the Earth sciences, and biology cannot causally affect physical states. But physicalism’s most reliable claim, the nomological dependence of nonphysical entities and properties on the physical, can be accepted (...)
  25. Filosofia, Scienza E Bioetica Nel Dibattito Contemperano, Studi Internazionali in Onore di Evandro Agazzi, Pp. 1105-1115. [REVIEW]H. G. Callaway & Paul Gochet - 2007
  26. Quine's Physicalism.H. G. Callaway & Paul Gochet - 2007 - In Filosofia, Scienza e Bioetica nel dibattito contemperano, Studi internazionali in onore di Evandro Agazzi, pp. 1105-1115.
    In this paper we briefly examine and evaluate Quine’s physicalism. On the supposition, in accordance with Quine’s views, that there can be no change of any sort without a physical change, we argue that this point leaves plenty of room to understand and accept a limited autonomy of the special sciences and of other domains of disciplinary and common-sense inquiry and discourse. The argument depends on distinguishing specific, detailed programs of reduction from the general Quinean strategy of reduction by explication. (...)
  27. Physicalism, Supervenience, and Dependence: A Reply to Botterell.Neil Campbell - 2002 - Dialogue 41 (1):163-167.
  28. Supervenience, Composition, and Physicalism.David Charles - 1992 - In David Charles & Kathleen Lennon (eds.), Reduction, Explanation and Realism. Oxford University Press.
  29. Materialism Restated.Chapman Cohen - 1943 - London: Issued for the Secular Society, Limited, by the Pioneer Press.
  30. Dualism, Monism, Physicalism.Tim Crane - 2000 - Mind and Society 1 (2):73-85.
    Dualism can be contrasted with monism, and also with physicalism. It is argued here that what is essential to physicalism is not just its denial of dualism , but the epistemological and ontological authority it gives to physical science. A physicalist view of the mind must be reductive in one or both of the following senses: it must identify mental phenomena with physical phenomena or it must give an explanation of mental phenomena in physical terms . There is little reason (...)
  31. Reply to Pettit.Tim Crane - 1993 - Analysis 53 (4):224-27.
  32. All God has to Do.Tim Crane - 1991 - Analysis 51 (October):235-44.
  33. REVIEW: "Physicalism: The Philosophical Foundations" by Jeffrey Poland.Tim Crane - unknown
  34. Postscript to There is No Question of Physicalism.Tim Crane & D. H. Mellor - 1995 - In P. Moser & J. D. Trout (eds.), Contemporary Materialism: a Reader. Routledge. pp. 85-89.
  35. There is No Question of Physicalism.Tim Crane & D. H. Mellor - 1990 - Mind 99 (394):185-206.
    Many philosophers are impressed by the progress achieved by physical sciences. This has had an especially deep effect on their ontological views: it has made many of them physicalists. Physicalists believe that everything is physical: more precisely, that all entities, properties, relations, and facts are those which are studied by physics or other physical sciences. They may not all agree with the spirit of Rutherford's quoted remark that 'there is physics; and there is stamp-collecting',' but they all grant physical science (...)
  36. Physical Sciences.Robert P. Crease - 2010 - In Julie Thompson Klein & Carl Mitcham (eds.), Annals of Science. Oxford University Press. pp. 79.
  37. Why Physics Alone Cannot Define the 'Physical': Materialism, Metaphysics, and the Formulation of Physicalism.Seth Crook - 2001 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 31 (3):333-359.
  38. Why Physics Alone Cannot Define the 'Physical'.Seth Crook - 2001 - Canadian Journal of Philosophy 31 (3):333-359.
  39. What Are Physical Properties?Chris Daly - 1998 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 79 (3):196-217.
  40. Does Physicalism Need Fixing?Chris Daly - 1995 - Analysis 55 (3):135-41.
  41. The Possibility of Physicalism.Shamik Dasgupta - 2014 - Journal of Philosophy 111 (9/10):557-592.
    It has been suggested that many philosophical theses—physicalism, normative naturalism, phenomenalism, and so on—should be understood in terms of ground. Against this, Ted Sider (2011) has argued that ground is ill-suited for this purpose. Here I develop Sider’s objection and offer a response. In doing so I develop a view about the role of ground in philosophy, and about the content of these distinctively philosophical theses.
  42. Emergence From What? A Transcendental Understanding of the Place of Consciousness.Kim Davies - 2014 - Journal of Consciousness Studies 21 (5-6):10-32.
    This paper argues that the standard formulations of the question of how consciousness emerges, both synchronically and diachronically, from the physical world necessarily use a concept of the physical without either a clear grasp of the concept or an understanding of the necessary conditions of its possibility. This concept will be elucidated and some of the necessary conditions of its possibility explored, clarifying the place of the mental and the physical as abstractions from the totality of an agent engaged in (...)
  43. The Experiential World.Richard Davnall - unknown
    There are four positions one might take in respect of the ontological status of the physical world: physicalism, which says that the physical world is ontologically fundamental, and nothing else is; substance dualism, which says that the physical world is ontologically fundamental, but so is the human mental realm, and that these are in some strong metaphysical sense separate; idealism, which says that the physical world is constitutively sustained, at least in part, by facts about the human mental realm; and (...)
  44. Supervenience and Reductive Physicalism.Erhan Demircioglu - 2011 - European Journal of Analytic Philosophy 7 (1):25-35.
    Supervenience physicalism attempts to combine non-reductionism about properties with a physical determination thesis in such a way as to ensure physicalism. I argue that this attempt is unsuccessful: the specific supervenience relation in question is either strong enough to ensure reductionism, as in the case of strong supervenience, or too weak to yield physical determination, as in the case of global supervenience. The argument develops in three stages. First, I propose a distinction between two types of reductionism, definitional and scientific, (...)
  45. Grounding Explanations.Louis deRosset - 2013 - Philosophers' Imprint 13 (7).
    A compelling idea holds that reality has a layered structure. We often disagree about what inhabits the bottom layer, but we agree that higher up we find chemical, biological, geological, psychological, sociological, economic, /etc./, entities: molecules, human beings, diamonds, mental states, cities, interest rates, and so on. How is this intuitive talk of a layered structure of entities to be understood? Traditionally, philosophers have proposed to understand layered structure in terms of either reduction or supervenience. But these traditional views face (...)
  46. Are Naturalists Materialists?John Dewey, Sidney Hook & Ernest Nagel - 1945 - Journal of Philosophy 42 (September):515-530.
    Professor [H.W.] Sheldon's critique of contemporary naturalism as professed in the volume Naturalism and the Human Spirit consists of one central "accusation": naturalism is materialism pure and simple. This charge is supported by his further claim that since the scientific method naturalists espouse for acquiring reliable knowledge of nature is incapable of yielding knowledge of the mental or spiritual "nature" for the naturalist is definitionally limited to "physical nature." He therefore concludes that instead of being a philosophy which can settle (...)
  47. We Are Living in a Material World (and I Am a Material Girl).Esa Diaz-Leon - 2008 - Teorema: International Journal of Philosophy 27 (3):85-101.
    In this paper I examine the question of whether the characterization of physicalism that is presupposed by some influential anti-physicalist arguments, namely, the so-called conceivability arguments, is a good characterization of physicalism or not. I compare this characterization with some alternative ones, showing how it can overcome some problems, and I defend it from several objections. I conclude that any arguments against physicalism characterised in that way are genuine arguments against physicalism, as intuitively conceived.
  48. On the Supposed Limits of Physicalist Theories of Mind.Jonathan E. Dorsey - 2011 - Philosophical Studies 155 (2):207-225.
    Is physicalism compatible with either panpsychism or so-called fundamental mentality ? Minimal physicalism, I contend, is compatible with both. We should therefore jettison the No Fundamental Mentality constraint, a proposed constraint on the definition of the physical, not to mention the false limits it places on physicalist theories of mind.
  49. Redefining Physicalism.Guy Dove - forthcoming - Topoi:1-10.
    Philosophers have traditionally treated physicalism as an empirically informed metaphysical thesis. This approach faces a well-known problem often referred to as Hempel’s dilemma: formulations of physicalism tend to be either false or indeterminate. The generally preferred strategy to address this problem involves an appeal to a hypothetical complete and ideal physical theory. After demonstrating that this strategy is not viable, I argue that we should redefine physicalism as an interdisciplinary research program seeking to explain the mental in terms of the (...)
  50. The Physical: Empirical, Not Metaphysical.J. L. Dowell, & Janice Dowell - 2005 - Philosophical Studies 131 (1):25-60.
    2. The Contingency and A posteriority Constraint: A formulation of the thesis must make physicalism come out contingent and a posteriori. First, physicalism is a contingent truth, if it is a truth. This means that physicalism could have been false, i.e. there are counterfactual worlds in which physicalism is false, for example, counterfactual worlds in which there are miracle -performing angels.[9] Moreover, if physicalism is true, our knowledge of its truth is a posteriori. This is to say that there are (...)
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