Token physicalism and functional individuation


Token physicalism is often viewed as a modest and unproblematic physicalist commitment, as contrasted with type physicalism. This paper argues that the prevalence of functional individuation in biology creates serious problems for token physicalism, because the latter requires that biological entities can be individuated physically and without reference to biological functioning. After characterizing the main philosophical roles for token physicalism, I describe the distinctive uses of functional individuation in models of biological processes. I then introduce some requirements on token identity claims that arise from a position on individuation and identity known as sortalism. An examination of biological examples shows that these sortalist requirements cannot be plausibly met due to differences between individuation by functional biological criteria and by physical criteria. Even without assuming sortalism, token physicalism faces the more basic problem of excluding functionally irrelevant detail from the individuation of biological tokens. I close by suggesting that the philosophical roles for token identity are better fulfilled by a notion of token composition, which promotes a hierarchical picture of individuality.

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Volume 8
Issue number 3
Pages 309-329
Available online
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