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The Journal of Philosophy

Volume 117, Issue 7, July 2020

Siegfried Jaag Siegfried Jaag, Christian Loew Christian Loew
Pages 387-406

Why Defend Humean Supervenience?

Humean Supervenience (HS) is a metaphysical model of the world according to which all truths hold in virtue of nothing but the total spatiotemporal distribution of perfectly natural, intrinsic properties. David Lewis and others have worked out many aspects of HS in great detail. A larger motivational question, however, remains unanswered: As Lewis admits, there is strong evidence from fundamental physics that HS is false. What then is the purpose of defending HS? In this paper, we argue that the philosophical merit of HS is largely independent of whether it correctly represents the world’s fundamental structure. In particular, we show that insofar as HS is an apt model of the world’s higher-level structure, it thereby provides a powerful argument for reductive physicalism and explains otherwise opaque inferential relations. Recent criticism of HS on the grounds that it misrepresents fundamental physical reality is, therefore, beside the point.

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