Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2000




Debates about supervenience have cooled off over the past few years. Those that remain tend to focus either on technical points concerning the modal force of—or connections between—different formulations of the relation, or on issues of reduction. Strangely enough, the more interesting question (at least for its application to the philosophy of mind has received little attention. The question is whether psycho-physical supervenience expresses the dependence of the mental on the physical. In light of the fact that many philosophers believed supervenience could capture a form of physicalism, and that the dependence of the mental on the physical is a minimal condition for such physicalism, this lack of attention is very surprising. Of course, how we answer this question will depend largely on how supervenience is understood and formulated. While the concept of supervenience captures the idea of dependence (after all, together with the denial of reduction, that is what it was introduced to do), it is not clear that the existing formulations of this relation live up to the concept behind them. Jaegwon Kim has argued convincingly that the standard formulations of supervenience (strong, weak, and global) fail to capture the idea of psycho-physical dependence they were initially taken to express. While I think Kim is essentially correct about this, there is room for elaboration and debate on this topic. The following discussion is divided into two parts. In the first section, I review Kim’s reasons for denying that the standard forms of supervenience describe relations of dependence. In the second part, I question Kim’s rejection of Davidson’s version of weak supervenience as a candidate for the expression of psycho-physical dependence. More specifically, I argue that Kim’s failure to appreciate the difference between conceiving of the relation as one that holds between properties and one between predicates reopens the possibility that Davidson’s version of supervenience describes a relation of dependence.


This article was originally published in Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review, 39(2): 303-315. © 2000 Canadian Philosophical Association.