Draft paper: "Multiple Realizability without Multiply Realizable Properties"

By Brandon Towl

Hello again Brains readers– I’m turning to you again for your help and insights.

Here is a link to a draft of a paper I am working on tentatively entitled “Multiple Realizability without Multiply Realizable Properties”.  I’d appreciate any feedback or comments on it from interested parties.

The gist of the paper is this: recent debates about multiple realizability (MR) seem to arise between two camps that start with different considerations.  On the one side, opponents of MR recognize that the idea of MR properties is metaphysically suspect.  And indeed, the problems they raise for the other side make a strong case against the idea that there are such properties.  On the other side, proponents of MR point out (rightly, I think) the indispensability of MR for making sense of special science explanations.  I try to adjudicate the debate by raising the possibility of MR (or MR kinds, if you will) without the need for MR properties per se.

If this sounds interesting to anyone, I’d love to hear what Brains readers think!


  1. Bill

    Would your constraint sets have to somehow contain or realize these multiple properties? Is it then ok for the physical history and environment of an object to realize the equivalence (as constraints) of properties denied of the object itself? Maybe…

  2. Joshua Stern

    Just from the summary, I think you have something here. Be a day or so before I can read the draft, but to berate what is probably obvious and perhaps in the paper, it’s nice to have some foundations, and the question is, which is the foundation and which is the construction?

  3. Brandon N Towl

    The way that I would put it would be: objects falling under a constrained kind simpliciter would not share internal physical properties in common, but they would all have been subject to the same constraints. The constraints don’t realize anything in the traditional sense– they are not properties themselves (if anything, they are relations).

    I suppose someone could argue that being constrained in such-and-so a way is a property. But it won’t be a “sparse” property, so I think the first half of my thesis still holds. I just think its easier to talk about sparse properties and predicates, and avoid using abundant properties.

  4. Brandon N Towl

    Thanks for the reply– I look forward to your comments.

    I’m not sure I understand your question here. Just to clarify, are you looking for the foundations of the main argument I present, versus the conclusions? Or something different?

  5. Joshua Stern

    The question is whether what is multiply realizable (eg, cognition) is reducible to, or constructable from, something more basic and less problematic (atoms, symbols, bits).

  6. Joshua Stern

    Hmm. “Constrained type” then, is it? Well, I say this about that. For me, the concept of “type” is highly problematic. The world is full of cats, but just what do you or I mean by “cat”? My linguistic turn and nominalism pervade my discussions of anything depending on types. If this mass of matter is a cat because it is constrained by history to be so, I’m fine with that, but, y’know, then what? “… that each member of K instantiates a property in the set P1…Pn rather than P’1…P’n”. But I’m very much afraid that begs the question of just what cat-ness (or Kat-ness) is that made it a type in the first place that might be constrained, and if we did have that in the first place, the constraint would already be in place. Getting back to mental property-ness, what could the physical properties be P1 … Pn that made it so?

    What I’m afraid we need to do would be more along the lines of: We say (!) a thing E is of type T if we find (or hold or observer or assert …) that it plays a role R in an axiomatized theory X. So, Kitty is a cat if we find it is furry and says meow and otherwise fits in our theory of beasts. A (complex physical state) C of entity E comprises a pain state if it makes E say “ouch” in our theory of agents where saying “ouch” is a meaningful event.

    Of course my theory is about what we say, not about what is. But, since it is we saying it, I’m afraid this is a constraint (!) on what we can say (!) about the world, just as good old LW told us long ago.

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