Metaphysical Individualism

  • Gregory Currie
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 117)


An essay on the metaphysics of the social sciences is appropriate for a volume that honours John Watkins. For John has contributed significantly both to the programme of methodological individualism and to the conception of metaphysics as continuous with and productive of scientific theorizing.1


Social Property Null Distribution Individual Property Propositional Attitude Occurrent State 
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  1. 1.
    For the first see especially ‘Ideal Types and Historical Explanation’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 3 (1952), 22–43, and ‘Historical Explanation in the Social Sciences’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 8 (1957), 104–117. For the second see ‘Between Analytic and Empirical’, Philosophy, 32 (1957), 112–131, ‘Confirmable and Influential Metaphysics’, Mind, 67 (1958), 344–365, and ‘Metaphysics and the Advancement of Science’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 26 (1975), 91–121.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See my ‘Individualism and Global Supervenience’, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 35 (1984), 345–358, and ‘Realism in the Social Sciences’, in R. Nola (Ed.), Realism and Relativism in Science, Dordrecht, Kluwer, 1988, 205–228.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Davidson’s claim that the mental supervenes on the physical is given in terms of events (‘Mental Events’, in Essays on Actions and Events, Oxford University Press, 1980, p. 88.) Kim formulates supervenience as a relation between property kinds (‘Supervenience and Nomological Incommensurables’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 15 (1978), 149–165, see especially p. 149; ‘Causality, Supervenience and the Mind-Body Problem’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 4 (1979), 31–50, see especially p. 41). Hellman and Thompson give a formulation in terms of elementary equivalence between models (‘Physicalist Materialism’, Nous, 11 (1979), 309–345). John Haugeland gives a formulation in terms of worlds as distinguished by the sentences held true in them (‘Weak Supervenience’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 19 (1982), 93–103).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    See e.g. John Bacon, ‘Supervenience, Necessary Coextension, and Reducibility’, Philosophical Studies, 49 (1986), 163–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 8.
    For Haugeland’s argument see his ‘Weak Supervenience’. See also Stalnaker, ‘Events, Periods and Institutions in Historians’ Language’, History and Theory (1967), 159–179. Philip Pettit, previously an advocate of supervenience plus identity, now expresses doubts about the identity thesis (see his ‘In Defence of “A New Methodological Individualism’”, Ratio, 26 (1984), 81–87).Google Scholar
  6. 9.
    For an analysis of social properties that owes much to the Griceans see David-Hillel Ruben, The Metaphysics of the Social World, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985, Chapter 3.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Inquiry (1984), p. 162.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    The locus classicus of this position is Putnam’s ‘The Meaning of Meaning’, in Philosophical Papers, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1975. See also various works by Tyler Burge: ‘Individualism and the Mental’, in Midwest Studies, 4, 1979. ‘Other Bodies’, in A. Woodfield (Ed.), Thought and Object, Clarendon Press, 1982; and ‘Intellectual Norms and Foundations of Mind’, Journal of Philosophy, 83 (1987), 697–720.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    See the work of Bürge cited in note 11.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1982.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    See Rudolph Carnap, Philosophical Foundations of Physics, New York, Basic Books, 1966. David Lewis gives an interesting exposition and variation in ‘How to Define Theoretical Terms’, in Philosophical Papers, Oxford University Press, 1983, volume 1.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    See F.P. Ramsey, ‘Theories’, in H. Mellor (Ed.), Foundations.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    See David Lewis, ‘Psychophysical and Theoretical Identifications’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 50 (1972), 249–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 17.
    See e.g. Jerry Fodor, Psychosemantics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bradford, 1987.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    See e.g. Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit, ‘Functionalism and Broad Psychology’, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    As McGinn suggests. See his Wittgenstein on Meaning, p. 66.Google Scholar
  17. 20a.
    See Block, ‘Psychologism and Behaviourism’, Philosophical Review, 90 (1981), 5–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 20b.
    Robert Kirk gives another example of a behaviourally sophisticated but non-sentient robot (‘Sentience, Causation and Some Robots’, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 64 (1986), 308–321). Kirk’s robot, like Block’s, differs functionally-internally from a sentient human. Block’s argument has other interesting ramifications. For example it undermines the Wittgensteinian claim that use is the authoritative criterion of understanding; that ‘if the use criterion is adequately met then nothing could rationally persuade us that this was not a case of understanding’ (McGinn, op. cit., p. 111). Block’s robot does as well as any human so far as use is concerned, but it does not understand.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory Currie
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OtagoNew Zealand

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