The Dennes Room

Philosophy 290-1

Fall 2018

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-1 Graduate Seminar: Mental Causation Campbell Tu 2-4 Moses 234

The mind-body problem can be framed in a number of different ways. The problem is standardly framed as a consequence of a demand for unity, or integration, in science:

(1) The view is that ideally, we will have a single integrated framework for explaining all that happens, perhaps a single set of axioms and boundary conditions from which all else can be derived. In these terms, the issue is whether, as panpsychists would have it, the fundamental axioms must include mention of the psychological as such. Or is it rather, as reductionists say, that the fundamental axioms can be stated in entirely physical terms, and such psychological truths as there are can be derived from those fundamental axioms together with definitions of the psychological in physical terms?

This way of framing the problem, though it is widespread, faces the objection that the demand for unification in science is here being overplayed. There are many reasons, some of which we shall cover in the class, for thinking we should have a pluralistic view of explanation in science generally. Indeed, physics itself seems to be pluralistic in its orientation.

We will set out the kind of pluralism implicit in causal modeling approaches to scientific explanation. When we reject unificationism, the mind-body problem, as it is usually framed, evaporates. But this does not of itself mean that we can forget about problems relating mind and body. The principal remaining problem arises when we distinguish between thinking of causation in terms of counterfactual dependence and thinking of causation in terms of mechanisms. There is no great difficulty in thinking about mind-brain causal relations in terms of counterfactual dependence. But as we shall see, when we consider physical-physical causation, and when we consider mental-mental causation, we seem to need, in addition to the conception of causation as counterfactual dependence, a conception of causation as mechanism, or process. The second formulation of the problem is:

(2) Can we make sense of the idea of causal mechanisms linking mental and physical? It seems impossible to do so, and this has classically been thought of as a principal form of the mind-body problem. This problem stays in play even on a pluralist picture.

I will argue that in the cases of mental-physical and physical-mental causation, we can make sense of causation without causal mechanisms. So this second way of framing the problem also evaporates.

This way of organizing the mind-body problem eliminates the role of mental-physical identities. Physicalists are sometimes inclined to argue, e.g., ‘let’s suppose that pain is C-fiber firing. After all since physicalism is true, some such identity must be true’. Dualists respond, ‘Since no such identity could be true, there must be two things, the mental and the physical’. We shall see, though, that property-identities really only make sense in the context of a mechanistic analysis of causation; with a property identity, one is trying to provide a fine analysis of how a particular mechanism operates. Outside the context of mechanistic explanation, we have no way of assessing the correctness of substantive property-identities.

We will review a wide range of literature on mental causation and the mind-body problem.