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Cheshire cat supervenience

Robert Halliday

pp. 417-430


Supervenience therefore is a concept with little to offer. It lacks conceptual clarity and is unable to explain the dependency relation without relying on it too heavily. Its mechanism of operation is unclear unless a projectivist analysis is used, but serious problems remain with such an account, and, even if it does apply to aesthetic or moral properties, and even secondary properties, we cannot see how it might apply to the chemical and physical world and to the mind/brain problem. Whatever characteristics make it plausible in one realm debar it from the other, and even if it is restricted to the ethical realm we cannot see how supervenience applies to our prudential values, the basic attitudes that orient our moral and aesthetic outlook.This is the second aspect to the "Cheshire Catness' of supervenience; the harder you look at it the more insubstantial it becomes. It fades away into the background, leaving just its smile. But, like any smile, there is more gap than substance, and 'supervenience" does nothing to fill that gap. Still the smile lingers, the haunting question of the connection between natural and moral-aesthetic properties. This is an important question and needs to be addressed, but supervenience does not address it. It merely labels it, and, by labelling it confers a spurious air of lucidity without shedding any but the most fractured light.

Publication details

Published in:

(1993) The Journal of Value Inquiry 27 (3-4).

Seiten: 417-430

DOI: 10.1007/BF01087689


Halliday Robert (1993) „Cheshire cat supervenience“. The Journal of Value Inquiry 27 (3-4), 417–430.