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Moving beyond the subset model of realization: The problem of qualitative distinctness in the metaphysics of science


Understanding the ‘making-up’ relations, to put things neutrally, posited in mechanistic explanations the sciences is finally an explicit topic of debate amongst philosophers of science. In particular, there is now lively debate over the nature of the so-called ‘realization’ relations between properties posited in such explanations. Despite criticism (Gillett, Analysis 62:316–323, 2002a), the most common approach continues to be that of applying machinery developed in the philosophy of mind to scientific concepts in what is known as the ‘Flat’ or ‘Subset’ model of ‘realization’ (Kim, Mind in a physical world, 1998; Shapiro, J Philos XCVII:635–654, 2000; Clapp, J Philos XCVIII:111–136, 2001; Wilson, Philos Stud 145:149–169, 2009). My primary goal in this paper is to show in still more detail that the Subset model of realization is inadequate for the descriptive task of describing the ‘making-up’ relations posited between properties or their instances in mechanistic explanations in the higher sciences. And my secondary goal is to highlight why this critique of the Subset view as a first-order descriptive account also shows there are deep difficulties in using the Subset account to address second-order issues in the philosophy of science as well.

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Gillett, C. Moving beyond the subset model of realization: The problem of qualitative distinctness in the metaphysics of science. Synthese 177, 165–192 (2010).

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  • Realization
  • Physicalism
  • Composition
  • Kim
  • Shoemaker