Philosophy 290-2

Spring 2016

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

Elliott Sober remarked that our ordinary concept of causation is an ‘amiable jumble’ of different ideas. He was talking particularly about causation in biology. Generally in current discussions of physical causation, people take it that ideas relating to probability, counterfactuals and processes or mechanisms all likely have some role to play in understanding what causation is, though of course it’s always instructive to see someone trying to do the whole thing in terms of one key concept alone. When we consider mental causation, the ways in which mental states cause one another, do we have just the same amiable jumble, or are there quite different ideas that need to be injected? My main point in this book is that there are some quite stark differences between physical causation and causation in the mind:

(1) In understanding physical causation, we seem to need a concept of ‘causal process’. Similar arguments that seem to show this also apply to the mental case. But here the concept of ‘causal process’ that we need seems strikingly different to the physical conception.

(2) In understanding high-level causation in the physical world, we seem to need a notion of ‘systematic relatedness’ of cause variables and effect variables, but the concept of ‘proportionality’ that we need in the mental case seems not quite the same as the concept we need in the physical case.

(3) In explaining what physical causation is, we seem to need some concept of ‘intervention’. But there are differences between the types of intervention that are available in the physical case and those that are available in the psychological case. There is some overlap, however.

What underlies these differences between causality in the mind and physical causation is the difference between the mind as a target of imaginative understanding, and the physical as a target of scientific explanation, not dependent on taking the ‘point of view’ of another.

Of course, what we say on these points has ramifications for virtually every topic in the philosophy of mind, from functionalism to the philosophy of perception, personal identity and freedom of the will. The key issues in all these areas are usually framed as though we have a univocal concept of causation, which applies to both mentalistic and physical phenomena. A better understanding of mental causation won’t of itself dissolve the original puzzles, but without it we couldn’t resolve them. We’ll work through some of the key questions in philosophy of causation as they apply to the mentalistic case, such as the relation between causality and law, or causality and process, and we’ll look at their application to some urgent practical questions in psychiatry, as well as more familiar philosophical issues.