In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Supervenience

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies
  • Historical Works
  • Reflexivity and Transitivity
  • Modality
  • Weak and Strong Supervenience
  • Global Supervenience
  • Further Logical Equivalences
  • Determination, Dependence, and Entailment
  • Superdupervenience
  • Nonreductive Physicalism
  • Defining Physicalism
  • Content Internalism
  • Epistemic Supervenience

Philosophy Supervenience
Jesper Kallestrup
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0117


Supervenience is a topic-neutral, dependency relation that typically holds between facts or sets of properties. For instance, to say that aesthetic properties supervene on nonaesthetic properties means that the former depend on the latter. If one painting is beautiful but another is ugly, then there must be some difference between them in how the colors and shapes are arranged on the canvas. If the other painting is a perfect forgery, then it may lack an aesthetic property that the genuine painting has, but all that shows is that having been painted by a certain artist is part of the set of properties on which that aesthetic property supervenes. In general, a set of properties A supervenes on a set of properties B if and only if any two objects x and y that differ in their A-properties (= the supervenient properties in A) must also differ in their B-properties (= the subvenient properties in B). That is to say, A-properties supervene on B-properties if and only if x and y cannot differ in regard to their A-properties without also differing in regard to their B-properties. In slogan, no A-difference without a B-difference.

General Overviews

Unlike other philosophical terms such as “causation” or “explanation,” “supervenience” has little vernacular use. Its meaning is basically given by philosophical stipulation. Consequently, the current literature contains a plethora of technical definitions of various supervenience relations. Apart from the independent importance of scrutinizing these notions so as to pronounce on their pair-wise logical equivalence, many of them serve crucial roles in characterizing those substantial philosophical views that claim that one set of properties depends on another set of properties. Combining technical rigor with intriguing philosophical implications makes for a highly relevant debate across many subdisciplines of contemporary philosophy. The best survey article on supervenience is Bennett and McLaughlin 2008, which covers all the technical details as well as the most important philosophical implications. Leuenberger 2008 is more concise and less comprehensive but still an excellent starting point. Kim 1993 and Kim 2003 are also extremely clear and very useful survey articles.

  • Bennett, Karen, and Brian McLaughlin. “Supervenience.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2008.

    Highly recommendable, comprehensive overview of the supervenience relation, its cognate relations and applications.

  • Kim, Jaegwon. “Supervenience as a Philosophical Concept.” In Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays. By Jaeogwon Kim, 131–160. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    Addresses supervenience as a topic of interest from the perspective of philosophical methodology. Fine discussion of the relationship between supervenience and emergence, dependence and reduction. For more on this article see Superdupervenience.

  • Kim, J. “Supervenience, Emergence, Realization, Reduction.” In The Oxford Handbook of Metaphysics. Edited by Michael J. Loux and Dean W. Zimmerman, 556–584. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    Excellent introduction to distinct concepts of supervenience, followed by critical discussion of further issues to do with emergence, reduction, and realization. For more on this article see Determination, Dependence, and Entailment.

  • Leuenberger, S. “Supervenience in Metaphysics.” Philosophy Compass 3.4 (2008): 749–762.

    Useful exposition of different notions of supervenience, and discussion of whether these provide an explication of determination theses.

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