Realization Relations in Metaphysics

Abstract

“Realization” is a technical term that is used by metaphysicians, philosophers of mind, and philosophers of science to denote some dependence relation that is thought to obtain between higher-level properties and lower-level properties. It is said that mental properties are realized by physical properties; functional and computational properties are realized by first-order properties that occupy certain causal/functional roles; dispositional properties are realized by categorical properties; so on and so forth. Given this wide usage of the term “realization”, it would be right to think that there might be different dependence relations that this term denotes in different cases. Any relation that is aptly picked out by this term can be taken to be a realization relation. The aim of this state-of-the-field article is to introduce the central questions about the concept of realization, and provide formulations of a number of realization relations. In doing so, I identify some theoretical roles realization relations should play, and discuss some theories of realization in relation to these theoretical roles.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    e.g. Chalmers (1994).

  2. 2.

    e.g. Gillett (2013).

  3. 3.

    There are a few sources currently in the literature some parts of which might serve the purposes of a survey on the concept of realization. Polger (2004: Ch 4) provides a critical survey of varieties of functional realization. Endicott (2005) has an encyclopaedia entry on multiple realization, which starts with a brief section on realization. Craver and Wilson (2006) explain different usages of the concept of realization in both cognitive science and metaphysics. Morris (2010) discuss a number of realization relations and makes some methodological points about theorizing about realization. Walter (2010) discusses several accounts of realization in relation to the issue of mental causation. Bennett (2011) proposes a theory of building relations some of which are the realization relations that I shall discuss in section “Some Formulations” below.

  4. 4.

    More accurately, Yablo (1992) and Wilson (2009) argue that mental properties are determinable properties whose realizers are their determinates.

  5. 5.

    Strictly speaking, Gillett (2002) is sceptical of the notion of a “structural property”, but argues that if there were any, they would be realized by non-structural properties and relations in the same way a higher-level property is realized by physical properties and relations.

  6. 6.

    Polger (2004, 2007) makes a similar comment about the notion of functional realization. He argues that since there are many different concepts of function (i.e. causal, teleological, etc.), there should also be many different relations by which functions are realized.

  7. 7.

    Two notable exceptions to this are John Heil’s and Thomas Polger’s discussions of realization. Heil (1999, 2003) analyses realization in terms of a relationship between predicates and properties: the predicate “is in pain” truly applies to different organisms which have different physical properties. If one wants to see this reference relation as a realization relation, predicates can be included in this list too. Polger takes the relation of functional realization to relate objects (bearers) to functions (functional properties): realizing a function is having a function (2004: 125).

  8. 8.

    The inclusion thesis is deliberately circular: it gives us a tool to translate the property-realization talk into instance-realization talk and vice versa.

  9. 9.

    I thank an anonymous referee for this observation.

  10. 10.

    Yablo (1992: 253), Funkhouser (2006: 550), Shoemaker (2007: 27), and Wilson (2009: 152).

  11. 11.

    In metaphysics, there is a growing literature on the notion of grounding, and arguably, the notion of dependence that is used in this paper is the same notion as grounding. In one sense, grounding is a form of metaphysical explanation. It is thought that explanation relations are different than necessitation relations in the following sense. Let us assume that my throwing the rock necessitates the breaking of the window. If this is true, then so is the following: my throwing the rock and a dog’s barking in another continent necessitate the breaking of the window. However, although the breaking of the window can be explained by my throwing the rock, it cannot be said that my throwing the rock and a dog’s barking in another continent explain the breaking of the window. The dog’s barking is explanatorily irrelevant to the breaking of the window.

  12. 12.

    Shoemaker’s (1981, 2007) intended use of the term total realizer indicates a metaphysically sufficient condition.

  13. 13.

    Note that this also has the following result: pace Horgan (1993), the obtaining of a supervenience relation between mental properties and physical properties, insofar as the supervenient properties are metaphysically necessitated by the subvening properties, ensures that mental properties are nothing over and above their physical supervenience bases. I thank an anonymous referee for suggesting that this should be highlighted.

  14. 14.

    See Walter (2010) for a sceptical proposal about this issue. Walter argues that none of the existing theories of realization can solve the exclusion problem.

  15. 15.

    See Polger (2004: Ch 5) for these and some “hybrid” concepts of function, and the associated functionalisms.

  16. 16.

    See Block (1980) and Melynk (2003) for formulations of realization along these lines. Cummins (1983) also appeals to a similar account of realization when he explains how a component of a system contributes to the function of a whole system. Because of its mereological nature, I shall remark on this account in my discussion of mereological realization in 3.4 below.

  17. 17.

    See Bennett (2003) for an explanation of how causal exclusion worries about mental properties and their realizers can be remedied. Bennett’s account applies to determinables and their determinates too.

  18. 18.

    Jessica Wilson (2009) responds to Funkhouser’s objection, and argues that a property that is maximally determinate according to one science (e.g. psychology) can be seen as a determinable property according to another science (e.g. physics). If she is right, then Funkhouser’s maximally determinate mental properties can still be determined by physical properties.

  19. 19.

    Clapp (2001: 133), Shoemaker (2007: 11) and Wilson (1999: 47–48) advertise their views as solutions to the exclusion problem.

  20. 20.

    See Craver (2001) for further discussion.

  21. 21.

    Similarly, Endicott (2011) reports on the dispute between the dimensioned view and the flat views of realization and argues that the debate can be solved by acknowledging that different scientific programs can appeal to different types of realization relation.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank two anonymous referees of Minds and Machines for their comments. The work for this article was carried out thanks to a grant provided by The Durham Emergence Project funded by the John Templeton Foundation (grant number: 40485).

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Correspondence to Umut Baysan.

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Baysan, U. Realization Relations in Metaphysics. Minds & Machines 25, 247–260 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-015-9366-x

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Keywords

  • Dependence
  • Explanation
  • Functionalism
  • Mental causation
  • Physicalism
  • Realization