Electrical conductors come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, made out of many different kinds of material. The multiple realisation question is: how come all these different kinds of material can conduct electricity? Or (in the jargon), how come electrical conductors are multiply realised? Traditionally this question has been taken to pose a challenge to those (the reductionists) who seek to explain everything from the bottom up. The issue is that if you explain how carbon fibre conducts electricity and how copper conducts electricity you would have missed something important: what do these conductors have in common such that they all conduct electricity? In this paper I develop a framework for addressing these questions that can work even for those cases where it's been claimed that reductionist approaches fail. Overall, I claim that multiple realisation is commonplace, that it can be explained by a reductionist approach, but that it requires a unique explanatory strategy.
Philosophy is the journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy. The journal role is dual: it is a leading philosophy academic journal, but it also serves the philosophical interests of specialists in other fields, and those of the informed general reader.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme, grant agreement No 771509. All project outputs are published Open Access. Website photo credit: Matt Lincoln Photography
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