Why preserve the letter of Humean supervenience?

Today in the phil physics reading group here at Leeds we were discussing Tim Maudlin’s paper “Why be Humean?”.

The question arose about why we should accord to the letter of the Humean supervenience principle. What that requires is that everything there is should supervene on the distribution of fundamental (local, monadic) properties and spatio-temporal relations. Why not e.g. allow further perfectly natural relations holding between pointy particles, so long as they are physically motivated and don’t enter into necessary connections with other fundamental properties or relations?

Brian Weatherson’s Lewis blog addressed something like this question at one point. His suggestion (I take it) was that the interest of tightly-constrained Humean supervenience was methodological: roughly, if we can fit all important aspects of the manifest image (causality, intentionality, consciousness, laws, modality, whatever) into an HS world, then we should be confident that we could do the same in non-HS worlds, worlds which are more generous with the range of fundamentals they commit us to. If Brian’s right about this, the motivation for going for the strongest formulation of HS, is that allowing any more would make our stories about how to fit the manifest image into the world as described by science, more dependent on exactly what science delivers.

If that’s the motivation for HS, then it’s not so interesting whether physics contradicts HS: what’s interesting is whether the stories about causality, intentionality and the rest that Lewis describes with the HS equipment in mind, go through in the non-HS worlds with minimal alteration.

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