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Ney, Alyssa, , . Defining Physicalism
2008, Philosophy Compass 3(5): 1033-1048.
Added by: Emily Paul, Contributed by: Greg Miller

Abstract: This article discusses recent disagreements over the correct formulation of physicalism. Although there appears to be a consensus outside those who discuss the issue that physicalists believe that what exists is what is countenanced by physics, as we will see, this orthodoxy faces an important puzzle now frequently referred to as ‘Hempel’s Dilemma’. After surveying the historical trajectory from Enlightenment-era materialism to contemporary physicalism, I examine several mainstream approaches that respond to Hempel’s dilemma, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

Comment: A great paper for an intermediate or advanced metaphysics course that provides a clear and accessible overview of physicalism and its history, but also more detailed discussion around the topic. It canvasses contemporary formulations of physicalism and their problems. This text is helpful for students in supplying them with a strong overview of the debate. Set seminar questions could (for example) ask students to outline Hempel's dilemma, and their preferred response to this dilemma that is discussed by Ney.

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