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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Background
  • Realization and Other Dependence Relations

Philosophy Realization
Umut Baysan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 May 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0289


“Realization” is a technical term used by philosophers of mind, philosophers of science, and metaphysicians to denote some dependence relation that is thought to exist between higher-level properties or states and lower-level properties or states. Some philosophers of mind hold that mental properties, such as believing that it is raining, having a painful sensation, and so on, are realized by physical properties. Understood this way, the term was introduced to philosophy of mind literature with the thesis that mental properties are multiply realizable by physical properties. Since different physical properties could realize the same mental property, it is thought that the phenomenon of multiple realization shows that the identity theory, namely the view that mental properties are identical with physical properties, is false. For similar reasons, some philosophers of the special sciences think that higher-level properties, such as biological properties, are realized by properties that are invoked in lower-level sciences such as physics. Some metaphysicians suggest that determinable properties, such as color properties (e.g., being red) are realized by their determinate properties (e.g., being crimson, being scarlet). Some argue that dispositional properties, such as being fragile, are realized by non-dispositional, categorical microstructural properties. It has been customary to think that functional properties, such as being a carburetor, are realized by first-order properties that play the specified functional roles. Due to the widely different usages of “realization,” it is difficult to determine if there should be one relation or several relations that this term denotes. Any relation that is denoted by this term can be seen as a realization relation. This article is about such relations. Whereas some theories explicitly formulate realization relations, some tangential theories that concern related issues (e.g., the mind-body problem) make crucial claims as to what counts as a case of realization. This article introduces the central questions about realization and clarifies the main issues and concepts that are invoked in the relevant literature.

General Overviews

Although the realization claims mentioned in the introduction have been made since the 1960s, philosophers have started to theorize about the notion of realization in its own right only in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Because of this, only a few general overviews discuss what these realization relations might be. Baysan 2015 is a survey article that discusses recent theories of realization and the theoretical roles realization relations are thought to play. Craver and Wilson 2006 provides a general introduction to some of the debates about the notion of realization. The authors outline both metaphysicians’ and cognitive scientists’ appeals to the notion of realization. Morris 2010 discusses several accounts of realization and makes some methodological claims as to how to theorize about realization. Endicott 2012 covers different theories of realization and argues that there are different concepts of “realization” each theory can be seen to be about. Wilson 2016 offers a comprehensive discussion of various accounts of realization.

  • Baysan, Umut. “Realization Relations in Metaphysics.” Minds and Machines 25.3 (2015): 247–260.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11023-015-9366-x

    This is a survey article that discusses various realization relations and evaluates the theories that are associated with these relations against the background of physicalism and the mental causation debate.

  • Craver, Carl, and Robert Wilson. “Realization.” In Philosophy of Psychology and Cognitive Science. Edited by Paul Thagard, 81–104. Amsterdam: North Holland, 2006.

    This is an introductory article on realization. It discusses different usages of the notion of realization in metaphysics and cognitive science and outlines some of the central debates about the features of realization relations.

  • Endicott, Ronald P. “Resolving Arguments by Different Conceptual Traditions of Realization.” Philosophical Studies 159.1 (2012): 41–59.

    DOI: 10.1007/s11098-010-9686-x

    This is not a general overview article, but it is written in an accessible style, and it can serve the purposes of an overview. It particularly focuses on a debate between Shoemaker and Gillett (see Issues Concerning the Formulation of Realization Relations: Relata of Realization Relations) about realization.

  • Morris, Kevin. “Guidelines for Theorizing about Realization.” Southern Journal of Philosophy 48.4 (2010): 393–416.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2041-6962.2010.00036.x

    This is primarily a methodological paper, proposing some constraints on how to theorize about realization. But it includes a nice and accessible overview of several theories of realization.

  • Wilson, Jessica. “Metaphysical Emergence: Weak and Strong.” In Metaphysics in Contemporary Physics. Edited by Tomasz Bigaj and Christian Wüthrich, 251–306. Poznań Studies in the Philosophy of the Sciences and the Humanities 104. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Rodopi, 2016.

    This paper includes a comprehensive discussion of various accounts of realization. Wilson considers cases of realization as cases of what she calls “weak emergence.” Sections on non-reductive physicalism are also relevant, as Wilson takes non-reductive physicalism to be committed to a weak emergence (i.e. realization) claim.

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