, Volume 79, Issue 2, pp 351–365 | Cite as

Supervenience Physicalism, Emergentism, and the Polluted Supervenience Base

Original Article


A prominent objection to supervenience physicalism is that a definition of physicalism in terms of supervenience allows for physicalism to be compatible with nonphysicalist outlooks, such as certain forms of emergentism. I take as my starting point a recent defense of supervenience physicalism from this objection. According to this line of thought, the subvenient base for emergent properties cannot be said to be purely physical; rather, it is “polluted” with emergent features in virtue of necessarily giving rise to them. Thus, if emergentism is true, it is false that everything supervenes on physical properties. I argue that this gives way to a new challenge for supervenience physicalism. The challenge, roughly, is to distinguish the emergentist’s “polluted” base from a physical supervenience base; that is, to give conditions under which the subvenient base is not “polluted” by supervenient properties. The problem, I argue, is that it is hard to see how this can be done without collapsing supervenience physicalism into alternative approaches to physicalism. I thus argue that if the present defense of supervenience physicalism succeeds in defending the adequacy of a supervenience-based definition of physicalism, it does so by compromising its uniqueness.


Emergent Property Causal Power Mental Property Phenomenal Property Metaphysical Necessity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2012 meeting of the Alabama Philosophical Society. I would like to thank audience members for helpful comments and questions on that occasion. I would also like to thank Robert Howell and an anonymous referee at Erkenntnis for helpful feedback.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tulane UniversityNew OrleansUSA

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