The philosophical apologist

What is physicalism?

Physicalism is the view that everything real is ultimately something physical. A more traditional term often used interchangeably is materialism – the view that everything is matter – but this term is used less frequently now that we know forces such as gravity are not strictly material.

Physicalism does not deny that many things such as consciousness seem non-physical. But in the end physicalists usually claim such things supervene in some way on the physical, or can be reduced to physical entities. What does it mean to supervene? If you recall the old dot-matrix printers, think of how they printed pictures as a series of dots. The picture supervenes on the physical dots. If two pictures have an identical dot pattern, the pictures must be identical. Similarly, physicalism entails that apparently non-physical entities supervene on physical properties.

It should be noted that there are various physicalist views such as token and type physicalism, and reductive and non-reductive physicalism. There are also different conceptions on what it means for something…

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