The Basic Concept
For most people who are not familiar with its many manifestations, analytical philosophy is the philosophy of reductionism par excellence. And the title is well earned when one recalls the string of reductionist programs that have left their mark on the first part of this century, ranging from the purported analytical reductions proposed by phenomenalism and behaviorism, to the weaker theoretical reductions of the later generations. Yet, starting with sporadic suggestions in the 1960s and 1970s, the philosophical literature is now rife with pronouncements of the wrongheadedness of all reductive programs. Perhaps surprisingly, the current literature associated with analytical philosophy is being swept by a wave of antireductionism.
Reductionism might be dead or dying, but the idea that certain entities we seem to talk and think about depend on others for their existence (and that they are somehow less real?) is still alive and kicking. This had led philosophers to search for a topic-neutral nonreductive dependence relationship that can be easily incorporated into the analytical toolbox of a variety of philosophical endeavors, performing at least part of the function reductive relationships were supposed to fulfill. Hence the recent philosophical interest in supervenience, which purports to be precisely this sort of relationship. Although the concept that the modern use of ‘supervenience’ aims to express has been around for some time, widespread interest in it is a relatively recent phenomenon.