The Causal Exclusion Problem
The Causal Exclusion Problem, which relentlessly motivates the vexing causal exclusion problem and exhaustively surveys its metaphysical assumptions and contemporary responses, is ideal for an advanced undergraduate or graduate course in the philosophy of mind.
Table Of Contents
- About the Author
- About the Book
- This eBook can be cited
- Chapter One: The Principle Of Mental Causation
- 1.1: Varieties of Mental Causation
- 1.2: Arguments for the Principle of Mental Causation
- 1.3: Autonomous Mental Causation
- 1.4: Objections to the Principle of Mental Causation
- Chapter Two: The Principle of Physical Causal Completeness
- 2.1: Varieties of Physical Causal Completeness
- 2.2: Arguments for the Principle of Physical Causal Completeness
- 2.3: Objections to the Principle of Physical Causal Completeness
- Chapter Three: The Principle of Irreducibility
- 3.1: Varieties of Irreducibility
- 3.2: Arguments for the Principle of Irreducibility
- 3.3: Problems with Functional Reduction
- Chapter Four: The Principle of Causal Exclusion
- 4.1: The Principle of Causal Exclusion
- 4.2: Arguments for the Principle of Causal Exclusion
- 4.3: Independent Overdetermination
- 4.4: Dependent Overdetermination
- 4.5: Problems with Dependent Overdetermination
- 4.6: Summary of the Causal Exclusion Problem
- Chapter Five: Causal Exclusion and Causation
- 5.1: Models of Causation
- 5.2: Similarities and Differences
- 5.3: Counterfactual and Nomological Solutions
- 5.4: Problems with Kim’s Generative Account
- 5.5: The Joint Causation Solution to the Causal Exclusion Problem
- 5.6: The Joint Causation Solution and the Necessity Problem
- 5.7: The Joint Causation Solution and Physical Causal Completeness
- 5.8: Causal Sufficiency and Determinative Background Conditions
- Chapter Six: Causal Exclusion, Events and Properties
- 6.1: The Property Exemplification Model of Events
- 6.2: Davidsonian Events and the Causal Exclusion Problem
- 6.3: MacDonald and MacDonald and the Causal Exclusion Problem
- 6.4: Mental-As-Mental Causation and Autonomous Mental Causation
- 6.5: Necessary Explanation and Autonomous Mental Causation
- 6.6: The Joint Causation Solution and the Event Fragility Objection
- Chapter Seven: Causal Exclusion and Mereological Systems
- 7.1: Mereological Systems
- 7.2: The Generalization Problem
- 7.3: Mereological Determination
- 7.4: The Joint Causation Solution and Mereological Summation
- Chapter Eight: Nonreductive Solutions
- 8.1: The Supervenience Solution
- 8.2: The Emergentist Solution
- 8.3: The Functionalist Solution
- Chapter Nine: Mereological Emergentism
- 9.1: C. Lloyd Morgan’s Mereological Emergentism
- 9.2: Mereological Emergentism and the Causal Exclusion Principle
- 9.3: Mereological Emergentism and the Co-Dependence Objection
- 9.4: Mereological Emergentism and Mental Causation
- 9.5: Mereological Emergentism and Physical Causal Completeness
- 9.6: Mereological Emergentism and Irreducibility
- 9.7: Conclusions
← x | 1 → • INTRODUCTION •
Jennie eats a peach because she wants one. Marvin is crying because he stepped on a nail. These are common instances of the intuitive claim that the mind influences the body, and vice versa. But, contemporary neuroscience increasingly reveals complete neural causes of these same effects: Jennie eats a peach because the muscles in her arms contracted as a result of the innervations of muscle fibres, which were in turn caused the release of neurotransmitters from the motor neurons at the neuromuscular junction, and so on and so forth. How can Jennie’s peach eating have a mental cause when it already has a sufficient neural cause? This is, in substantial part, the traditional problem of mental causation.
In the middle of the twentieth century, the prevailing solution to the problem of mental causation was to posit a reductive identity of the mental to the neural (Smart, 1959; Feigl, 1958; Place, 1956). That is, Jennie’s wanting a peach is (identical with) the causally efficacious neural cause, so Jennie’s peach eating has a mental cause, which is the sufficient neural cause. Before long, this reductive concensus was overthrown. Hilary Putnam and Jerry Fodor persuaded many that mental properties are realized by various neural bases, so they cannot be (identical with) specific realizing bases (Fodor 1974; Putnam, 1967). Still others were convinced by Donald Davidson that mental vocabulary is irreducible to physical vocabulary because no law can map one conceptual grid onto the other (Davidson 1970).
The failure of reductionism led to a nonreductive solution to the problem of mental causation: Jennie’s peach eating has a sufficient neural cause and a mental cause that is realized by, or supervenes upon, the sufficient neural cause. In recent years this nonreductive hegemony has been likewise threatened. The causal exclusion problem is the principal weapon fashioned against nonreductive solutions to the mental causation problem. The causal exclusion problem has venerable roots, in the form of the ancient principle of parsimony, which dates back, at least, to Aristotle. In its contemporary formulation, however, the causal exclusion problem dates back to Norman Malcolm (1968), and is most thoroughly exposited in a series of articles and books by Jaegwon Kim. According to the causal exclusion problem, Jennie’s peach eating cannot have a mental cause and a distinct neural cause. After all, if the neural cause is sufficient for Jennie’s peach eating, Jennie’s mental cause is unnecessary—there is no work left for it to do—so it can be excluded as otiose. Thus, the ← 1 | 2 → causal exclusion problem implies that nonreductive solutions to the problem of mental causation actually fail to secure mental causation—a shortcoming which is probably fatal.
More formally, according to a common though not universal presentation, the causal exclusion problem is the conjunction of the following four individually plausible, but (seemingly) jointly inconsistent principles:
The Principle of Mental Causation: some physical effects have mental causes. The Principle of Physical Causal Completeness: physical effects have sufficient physical causes.
The Principle of Irreducibility: mental causes are distinct from physical causes. The Principle of Causal Exclusion: effects have no more than a single sufficient cause.
While each of these principles is individually plausible, they seem to form an inconsistent tetrad. How can behavioural effects have no more than their single sufficient physical causes, while simultaneously having distinct mental causes as well?
There are those who resolve the causal exclusion problem by rejecting one of the principles constituting the causal exclusion problem. For example, some accept the principles of physical causal completeness, irreducibility and causal exclusion. Jointly, however, these three propositions lead to the falsity of the principle of mental causation: if every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause, and mental causes are not identical to that sufficient physical cause nor can we include any causes beyond the sufficient physical cause, then mental events do not cause physical effects. This position, known as epiphenomenalism, has a number of adherents (Robinson, 2006; Gadenne, 2006). However, many think the principle of mental causation must be taken as a “truism” (Ney, 2007, 486), whose rejection would amount to “the end of the world” (Fodor, 1989, 77).
There are others who accept the principles of mental causation, irreducibility and causal exclusion. However, these premises together lead to the falsity of the principle of physical causal completeness: if distinct mental events cause, without overdetermining, physical effects, then the physical cause of the effect is not individually sufficient. Some are willing to countenance the rejection of the principle of physical causal completeness (Meixner, 2008; Lowe, 1993). However, most think the principle of physical causal completeness is a “fully established” (Papineau, 2001, 33) principle which cannot be rejected.
There are still others who embrace the principles of mental causation, physical causal completeness and irreducibility. These three principles, taken together, render false the principle of causal exclusion: if an physical effect has a ← 2 | 3 → sufficient physical cause and a distinct mental cause, then the effect clearly has more than a single sufficient cause. An increasingly large group of philosophers suggest this route (Bennett, 2003; Sider, 2003; Loewer, 2002; Pereboom, 2002). However, many other philosophers argue that countenancing overdetermination in the case of mental casusation is less than ideal (Harbecke, 2008, 28; Schiffer, 1987, 148). Jaegwon Kim, for example, calls this solution “a bit bizarre” (Kim, 2009, 45) and, at worst, “absurd” (Kim, 1993, 281).
Finally, a group of philosophers endorse the principles of mental causation, physical causal completeness and causal exclusion. Jaegwon Kim is the most notable proponent of this position (cp. Ney, 2007; Kim, 2005, 101). He thinks it implies the failure of the principle of irreducibility: if every physical effect has a sufficient physical cause which in turn excludes all distinct causes, yet the mental is still a cause, it seems as though the mental cause is the sufficient physical cause. Although Kim is willing to take this route, others think this position amounts to endorsing an “indigestible metaphysics” (Loewer, 2002, 661).
These four solutions all take the four principles constituting the causal exclusion problem to be irreconcilable. They then solve the causal exclusion problem by rejecting one of the four principles constituting the causal exclusion problem. I take these ‘irreconcilabilist’ solutions to be unpalatable. This is not because these solutions lack creativity, but because of the undeniable plausibility of each of the four principles taken individually. To demonstrate this point, four chapters of this book are dedicated to outlining, in significant detail, the argumentation in support of each of the four principles constituting the causal exclusion problem (Chapters One through Four).
While I argue that none of the four principles can be abandoned, I specifically emphasize the case in favour of the principle of irreducibility. I reinforce the principle of irreducibility because, as gestured at above, the causal exclusion problem is taken by some to be specifically aimed at the principle of irreducibility. That is, some argue that the four principles constituting the causal exclusion problem are jointly inconsistent, so one of the principles must be false, which must be the principle of irreducibility. I argue, on the contrary, that the principle of irreducibility is well nigh undeniable. Thus, if one of the four principles must be cut, the principle of irreducibility has at least an equal chance of surviving the pruning.
I bolster the principle of irreducibility in two ways. First, I provide some traditional argumentation in favour of the principle of irreducibility, which, despite certain efforts, has still not been overcome (Chapter Three). Secondly, I argue that autonomous mental causation, which is the version of mental causation that arises from the conjunction of the principle of irreducibility and ← 3 | 4 → mental causation, is, at the very least, significantly preferable to reduced mental causation (which is the version of mental causation that arises from the conjunction of the principle of mental causation and the rejection of the principle of irreducibility). At best, autonomous mental causation is the only acceptable version of mental causation (Sections 1.3, 3.2, 6.5, 6.6). So, at best, if the principle of irreducibility fails, the principle of mental causation is hardly established either.
There is also a group of metaphysical solutions to the causal exclusion problem that, rather than resolving the causal exclusion problem by abandoning one of its foundational principles, topple the causal exclusion problem by undermining certain metaphysical assumptions grounding it (Chapter Five and Six). For example, by adopting differing theories of causation (Loewer, 2002; Fodor, 1989, 66), or theories of events and/or properties (Davidson, 1993), the causal exclusion problem substantially dissipates. I argue, however, that the metaphysical assumptions grounding the causal exclusion problem are, by and large, plausible and appropriate to the mental causation debate. Moreover, alternative metaphysical foundations are accompanied by independent philosophical difficulties. Finally, metaphysical solutions to the causal exclusion problem often terminate in charges of begging the question from both sides, which does not advance the dialectic. For these reasons, metaphysical solutions to the causal exclusion problem, while instructive, are not ultimately persuasive.
There is a final group of solutions to the causal exclusion problem that present nonreductive models of mental causation that demonstrate how to include mental causes. The variety of prospective models is vast, encompassing supervenience solutions, emergentist solutions, functionalist solutions, realization solutions and constitution solutions, among others. I consider the first three on this list, as they are among the most common solutions (Chapter Eight). These nonreductive models suffer a common fate. Namely, in all of these cases, the neural cause is sufficient, so the mental cause remains, ultimately, unnecessary as a cause, and can be excluded. What is needed is a nonreductive solution where the neural cause is sufficient, but the mental cause is, in some way, necessarily efficacious as well, thereby preventing its exclusion.
To this end, in this book I introduce two fresh nonreductive avenues of response to the causal exclusion problem. First, I introduce the Joint Causation Solution to the causal exclusion problem (Sections 5.4-5.5). While the joint causation solution is not entirely new—indeed, Kim once entertained it himself (Kim, 1988, 237)—the manner of its outworking is original. According to the joint causation solution, the neural cause and the distinct mental cause jointly cause the physical effect.
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- Publication date
- 2014 (April)
- supervenience emergentism philosophy
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 206 pp., num. ill.