A defence of Jessica Wilson’s subset view
: emergent causation in a physical world

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy


In this thesis I defend Jessica Wilson’s nonreductive physicalist account, so-called subset view, against two major objections: Sara Bernstein’s Overdetermination Objection, and Carl Gillett’s Flat Objection. Moreover, I provide reasons to prefer Wilson’s view over two alternative accounts: Shoemaker’s own subset view and Gillett’s compositional relations. First, I argue that Sara Bernstein’s Overdetermination Objection is based on an ambiguity in the formulation of the overdetermination schema, which stems from the distinction between causes and causal powers. I show that the subset view does not face a problem in either of the two routes arising from the disambiguation. Second, I argue that Gillett’s Flat Objection does not have general applicability by providing a case study where it fails. The Flat Objection argues that in order to account for making-up relations in the sciences we need many-one realization relations. However, I show that temperature, a thermodynamic property, is one-one realized by a single lower-level property. From this, I argue that we should accept Wilson’s realization relation as a more general account of the relation between lower-level properties and higher-level ones. Third, I argue that Shoemaker’s mereological realization account faces problems arising from its core commitments that Wilson’s view does not face. This is remarkable, as Wilson’s view has often been overlooked in debates on the subset view, where Shoemaker’s account is predominant. Finally, I briefly discuss that, although Gillett’s mutualism is in principle a live view, its lack of empirical success undermines the whole effort to offer a new emergentist account and renders the view unsuccessful.
Date of Award1 Apr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJames Stazicker (Supervisor)

Cite this