Volume 11, Issue 1, 2011
Crawford L. Elder
The Alleged Supervenience of Everything on Microphysics
Here is a view at least much like Lewis’s “Humean supervenience,” and in any case highly influential—in that some endorse it, and many more worry that it is true. All truths about the world are fixed by the pattern of instantiation, by individual points in space-time, of the “perfectly natural properties” posited by end-of-inquiry physics. In part, this view denies independent variability: the world could not have been different from how it actually is, in the ways depicted by common sense and the special sciences, without differing in the punctiform instantiation of fundamental physical properties. In part, it makes an ontological claim: what it is for one of the objects recognized by common sense or special sciences to be there in the world, bearing the properties attributed by a true description, is “nothing over and above” the obtaining of fundamental physical properties at points, and fundamental physical relations among points. I argue that this view is untenable. I concede that for every true claim in familiar discourses, there is a state of affairs at the level of fundamental microphysics that is the truth-maker—some state of affairs sufficient for truth in the familiar claim. The problem is that the view needs to posit not just truth-makers at the level of microphysics, but truth-conditions—states of affairs the obtaining of which is required for truth in any familiar claim, and the failure of which renders the familiar claim false. That is, the view must posit necessary conditions, at the level of microparticles, for truth in familiar claims. This it cannot plausibly do.