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Anomalous Monism And Supervenient Causation Essay, Research Paper

In his article Mental Events, Donald Davidson attempts to reconcile some of our apprehensions with regard to mind-body interaction. The question before us is, how is it possible that mental events can be causally connected to physical events? Davidson begins his paper by outline three principles that he holds to be true, but at the same time appear to be contentious with each other:1. At least some mental events are causally connected to physical events.2. Where there is causality, there must be a lawful connection.3. There are no strict deterministic laws that govern mental events.Most philosophers would probably agree that these three principles lead to a contradiction. Yet all three appear to be true, how can we reconcile this?Davidson thinks it is possible to show the consistency of the three principles by demonstrating a view of the mental and physical realms that contain no contradictions yet entail the three principles. The way that he does this is by explaining an identity between what is mental and what is physical.First, he asks us to consider what it means to say that an event is either physical or mental. He thinks that the “natural answer is that an event is physical if it is describable in purely physical vocabulary, mental if describable in mental terms.” (Davidson, 210) By his description, mental events then, are those events that have a mental description. Thus, verbs that express a propositional attitude such as intending, desiring, hoping, knowing, and the like are mental verbs and contribute to mental description. Another way of looking at this is to say that such verbs are psychological verbs. Physical descriptions depend on an event being described in terms of who, what, where, when, and how.Working within this framework, Davidson goes on to identify four theories of the relation between mental and physical: Nomological monism, which seeks to describe all events as physical, nomological dualism, which is a form of parallelism. (Mental and physical events in parallel) Anomalous dualism, which “combines ontological dualism with the general failure of laws correlating the mental and the physical” (Davidson, 213) and finally his own view, anomalous monism.Anomalous monism is a theory that states that all events are physical, but rejects nomological monism’s view that mental phenomena can be described in purely physical terms. This is a theory where mental characteristics are somehow dependent upon physical ones, yet is not reducible to physicalism. Under this view, all events are particulars, and it is possible that there may be more than one way to describe the event, there may exist both physical and mental descriptions of the same event. In the above way, Davidson thinks that anomalous monism can reconcile his original three principles: Causality and identity are relations between individual events no matter how described. But laws are linguistic; and so events can instantiate laws, and hence be explained or predicted in the light of laws, only as those events are described in one or another way. (Davidson, 215) Thus, anomalous monism supplies a handy explanation of mental-physical causality without the three general principles described by Davidson at the beginning of his paper. Mental causal events can be described in both mental terms and physical terms. When described in mental terms, using only mental vocabulary, there can be no law-like causal connection to an event that is described only in physical terms. But when a mental event is described in physical (neurophysiological) terms, there can be a law-like connection to a physical-description-only event because they share a common vocabulary, and the description of the events can instantiate a law-like connection between the two. To summarize Davidson’s view, when law-like relations depend on descriptions of those events, causality and identity are independent of description. It is possible for a mental event to be causally related to a physical event, yet have no strict law describing it simply because there is no law that connects those events under just those descriptions. That there are no psychophysical laws follows from the fact that events under mental descriptions are constrained by principles of coherence and consistency or rationality that do not apply to events described in physical terms. Hence the name: monism, because of the token-identity between mental and physical; and anomalism, because there is no definitional or nomological reduction between mental and physical.Ted Honderich disagrees with Davidson’s analysis of the problem of psychophysical causation. He thinks that mental events are merely epiphenomenal, mere appendages that Davidson has conveniently constructed to lend support to his theory of anomalous monism. To illustrate the concept of epiphenomenalism, Honderich employs a simple example:Certain it is true that when I put some pears on the scale, something green and French did cause the pointer to move to the two-pound mark, but there in fact is no entailed law connecting greenness and Frenchness with the pointer’s so moving. There is in fact no law at all connect the event in virtue of its being of something green and French with the pointer’s moving to the two-pound mark. (Honderich, 60) Epiphenomenalism is the view that some feature of a situation arises in virtue of others, but itself has no causal powers. Much like the pear’s greenness and Frenchness having no causal power on the movement of the pointer on the scale, Honderich believes that mental events, while being an interesting feature of the situation, really have no causal power over physical events.

By stating that only certain properties of an event are relevant to the cause that it is, Honderich denies Davidson’s attempt to combine mental descriptions with physical events. Only the physical description of an event can be relevant to determining causal relationships. Thus, it is only in virtue of certain properties that an event is the cause that it is. Returning to the example of the pears, Honderich states that:Certainly it may be said that the cause that there was would not have existed if the pears have not been green and French. That is consistent with the greenness and Frenchness being causally irrelevant to the effect. That we say, as we do, that the cause that there was would not have existed if the pears had not been green and French is owed to a fact of language — roughly the fact that we take the whole for the part — and not to any fact of causal necessity about all properties of the pears. There is no such fact. (Honderich, 62) The cause of the pointer moving then is due to the property of weight that the pear has, and not due to the property of greenness or Frenchness. If a mental event causes a physical event, as Davidson claims, then what are the causally relevant properties of the mental event? The mental description of properties certainly must not be causally relevant. They may exist, but in the end, Honderich thinks that they must be superfluous, a confusion if causal relevance. Instead, he introduces the concept of supervenience: It is the mental event described as physical that is causally relevant to the action. A law-like causal connection then can be made between the mental event described as physical and the action, but not between the action and the mental event described as mental. However, “since the event as mental supervenes on the event as physical, the event as mental is efficacious with respect to the action.” (Honderich, 64) This establishes a dependency relation between mental and physical description. Properties of one kind, F, supervene upon those of another kind, G, when things are F in virtue of being G. Thus, certain events cannot only be physical, but must be physical in virtue of being mental. If the mental is supervenient upon the physical that sameness of physical properties implies sameness of mental properties, but sameness of mental properties does not imply sameness of physical properties. There is an asymmetrical relationship between the two: dependence. Jaegwon Kim then further refines this view in his paper: Epiphenomenal and Supervenient Causation. He seeks to defend the view that mental causation is merely a case of supervenient causation. Let us see now how the local supervenience model of the mind understands mental causation. A mental state M supervenes on a neural state N; if we use the example of pain, we know from neurobiology that the neural state N is a sufficient cause of pain-response. If we now assert that the mental state M also causes pain-response, we seem to be back in the type-identity paradox of the pain-behavior being overdetermined. We can, however, divide the pain response up into “muscle contraction” and “wincing”. If so, then, N causes muscle-contraction (a causal process we can trace through the human body and understand in purely physical terms). M, which supervenes on N can be said to “superveniently cause” both the muscle contraction. “Supervenient causation” is, as defined by Kim, a method of causation in which a property causes X by virtue of the property’s supervenient base containing the cause of X. Since “wincing” can be considered supervenient on muscle contraction, it appears that we can also say that M is a supervenient cause of wincing, and have a full explanation of mental causation. Kim concludes that “Davidson’s anomalous monism does not do full justice to psychophysical causation– that is, it fails to provide an account of psychophysical causation in which the mental qua mental has any real causal role to play.” (Kim, 106) Honderich’s and Kim’s contribution to the mind-body problem is enormous. As a criticism of Davidson’s explanation of mental causation, we can understand the relations of such different layers of description (mental description and physical description) without attempting a reduction of the one description to the other. However, this all depends on how we come to understand the supervenient relation. If it is an open, inexplicable, metaphysical fact that F’s relate to G’s in this way, then supervenience inherits, rather than solves the problems of understanding the various descriptions.To see this potential flaw, consider mass and gravity. We know that gravitational force is supervenient upon mass, but at the same time, we do not understand how it is that mass and gravity are related, some have postulated that tiny subatomic particles are the ones responsible for gravitational force, but so far have been inconclusive in their research. It is pure, inexplicable fact that gravity somehow is related to mass. In this scenario, supervenient causation cannot help us to discover how one is causally related to the other, it leaves us only with the mandate to discover the supervenient relations within the two descriptions. Bibliography Davidson, Donald. Mental Events, in “Essays on Actions and Events”, Clarendon Press, 1980, pp. 207-225 Honderich, Ted. The Argument from Anomalous Monism, in “Analysis”Volume 42, pp. 59-64 Kim, Jaegwon. Epiphenomenal and Supervenient Causation, in “Supervenience and Mind”, Cambridge University Press, pp. 92-108

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