About this topic
Summary The claim that physics is causally closed is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Completeness of Physics’ (e.g. Papineau 1991). For physics to be causally closed, all physical events (facts, etc.) must be due to physical causes. This claim is a crucial premise in the ‘causal’ or ‘no overdetermination argument’ for physicalism. Given this premise, anything else that has physical effects – for example mental events – must, it is then argued, supervene on, or reduce to, or be identical with (etc.) something physical unless we are prepared to accept systematic over-determination. Dualistic interactionists tend to deny the completeness of physics (some physical events have fundamentally mental causes). According to some versions of emergence, or downward causation, there are physical events that are at least partly due to non-physical causes (see, e.g. Gillett 2010 and Wilson forthcoming). If physics is not causally closed, then physicalism in any form is probably false.
Key works

A useful historical account of the rise of the view that physics is complete is Papineau 2001. For an extended treatment of the topic see Spurrett 1999. Among recent papers directly focused on the issue, see Lowe 2000, Montero 2003, Vicente 2006, Corry 2013, Garcia 2014, and Tiehen forthcoming.

Introductions

Relevant encyclopedia articles include Robb & Heil 2008 (especially section 2.3) and Stoljar 2001 (especially section 16).

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  1. Harald Atmanspacher & Thomas Filk (2012). Determinism, Causation, Prediction, and the Affine Time Group. Journal of Consciousness Studies 19 (5-6):5-6.
    This contribution addresses major distinctions between the notions of determinism, causation, and prediction, as they are typically used in the sciences. Formally, this can be elegantly achieved by two ingredients: (i) the distinction of ontic and epistemic states of a system, and (ii) temporal symmetry breakings based on the mathematical concept of the affine time group. Key aspects of the theory of deterministically chaotic systems together with historical quotations from Laplace, Maxwell, and Poincare provide significant illustrations. An important point of (...)
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  2. Keith Augustine & Michael Martin (eds.) (2015). The Myth of an Afterlife: The Case Against Life After Death. Rowman & Littlefield.
    Because every single one of us will die, most of us would like to know what—if anything—awaits us afterward, not to mention the fate of lost loved ones. Given the nearly universal vested interest we personally have in deciding this question in favor of an afterlife, it is no surprise that the vast majority of books on the topic affirm the reality of life after death without a backward glance. But the evidence of our senses and the ever-gaining strength of (...)
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  3. Sara Bernstein (forthcoming). Overdetermination Underdetermined. Erkenntnis:1-24.
    Widespread causal overdetermination is often levied as an objection to nonreductive theories of minds and objects. In response, nonreductive physicalists have argued that the type of overdetermination generated by their theories is different from the sorts of coincidental cases involving multiple rock-throwers, and thus not problematic. This paper pushes back. I argue that attention to differences between types of overdetermination discharges very few explanatory burdens, and that overdetermination is a bigger problem for the nonreductive metaphysician than previously thought.
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  4. Renée Bilodeau (1993). L'inertie du Mental. Dialogue 32 (03):507-525.
    This paper addresses two objections raised against anomalous monism. Firstly, on the basis of Davidson's assertion that all causal relations fall under strict laws, many critics conclude mental properties are causally inert since they are non-nomic. I argue that this conclusion follows only on the further assumption that all causally efficacious properties are nomic properties. It is perfectly consistent, however, to hold that there is a law covering each causal relation without each causal statement being the instantiation of a law. (...)
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  5. Andrea Christofidou (2007). God, Physicalism, and the Totality of Facts. Philosophy 82 (4):515-542.
    The paper offers a general critique of physicalism and of one variety of nonphysicalism, arguing that such theses are untenable. By distinguishing between the absolute conception of reality and the causal completeness of physics it shows that the 'explanatory gap' is not merely epistemic but metaphysical. It defends the essential subjectivity and unity of consciousness and its inseparability from a self-conscious autonomous rational and moral being. Casting a favourable light on dualism freed from misconceptions, it suggests that the only plausible (...)
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  6. Richard Corry (2013). Emerging From the Causal Drain. Philosophical Studies 165 (1):29-47.
    For over 20 years, Jaegwon Kim’s Causal Exclusion Argument has stood as the major hurdle for non-reductive physicalism. If successful, Kim’s argument would show that the high-level properties posited by non-reductive physicalists must either be identical with lower-level physical properties, or else must be causally inert. The most prominent objection to the Causal Exclusion Argument—the so-called Overdetermination Objection—points out that there are some notions of causation that are left untouched by the argument. If causation is simply counterfactual dependence, for example, (...)
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  7. Tim Crane (1995). The Mental Causation Debate. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 69:211-36.
    This paper is about a puzzle which lies at the heart of contemporary physicalist theories of mind. On the one hand, the original motivation for physicalism was the need to explain the place of mental causation in the physical world. On the other hand, physicalists have recently come to see the explanation of mental causation as one of their major problems. But how can this be? How can it be that physicalist theories still have a problem explaining something which their (...)
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  8. DavidSpurrett & DavidPapineau (1999). A Note on the Completeness of 'Physics'. Analysis 59 (261):25–29.
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  9. Jerome W. Elbert (2000). Are Souls Real? Prometheus Books.
  10. Robert K. Garcia (2014). Closing in on Causal Closure. Journal of Consciousness Studies 21 (1-2):96-109.
    I examine the meaning and merits of a premise in the Exclusion Argument, the causal closure principle that all physical effects have physical causes. I do so by addressing two questions. First, if we grant the other premises, exactly what kind of closure principle is required to make the Exclusion Argument valid? Second, what are the merits of the requisite closure principle? Concerning the first, I argue that the Exclusion Argument requires a strong, “stringently pure” version of closure. The latter (...)
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  11. Sophie Gibb (2012). Nonreductive Physicalism and the Problem of Strong Closure. American Philosophical Quarterly 49 (1):29-42.
    Closure is the central premise in one of the best arguments for physicalism—the argument from causal overdetermination. According to Closure, at every time at which a physical event has a sufficient cause, it has a sufficient physical cause. This principle is standardly defended by appealing to the fact that it enjoys empirical support from numerous confirming cases (and no disconfirming cases) in physics. However, in recent literature on mental causation, attempts have been made to provide a stronger argument for it. (...)
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  12. Simone Gozzano (2007). Pensieri Materiali: Corpo, Mente E Causalità. Utet Università.
    Un uomo in cappa e cilindro di fronte a voi promette: “muoverò la materia con la sola forza del pensiero”. Scettici aspettate la prova. Ed ecco che, mirabilmente, egli alza un braccio. Un braccio, il suo braccio! Un pezzo di materia, dotato di massa, carica elettrica, proprietà magnetiche e quant’altro, si è mosso solo grazie alla sua volontà di alzarlo. Con la sola forza del pensiero il braccio si è sollevato! Per quanti sforzi retorici faccia, nessuno riterrà particolarmente sorprendente l’esperimento. (...)
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  13. Ivar Hannikainen (2010). Questioning the Causal Inheritance Principle. Theoria 25 (3):261-277.
    Mental causation, though a forceful intuition embedded in our commonsense psychology, is difficult to square with the rest of commitments of physicalism about the mind. Advocates of mental causation have found solace in the causal inheritance principle, according to which the mental properties of mental states share the causal powers of their physical counterparts. In this paper, I present a variety of counterarguments to causal inheritance and conclude that the requirements for causal inheritance are stricter than what standing versions of (...)
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  14. Matthew C. Haug (2009). Two Kinds of Completeness and the Uses (and Abuses) of Exclusion Principles. Southern Journal of Philosophy 47 (4):379-401.
    I argue that the completeness of physics is composed of two distinct claims. The first is the commonly made claim that, roughly, every physical event is completely causally determined by physical events. The second has rarely, if ever, been explicitly stated in the literature and is the claim that microphysics provides a complete inventory of the fundamental categories that constitute both the causal features and intrinsic nature of all the events that causally affect the physical universe. After showing that these (...)
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  15. John Heil & Alfred Mele (eds.) (1993). Mental Causation. Clarendon Press.
    I argue that the two standard models of mental causation fail to capture the crucial causal relevance of the reason-giving relations involved. Their common error is an exclusively mechanical conception of causation, on which any justification is bound to be independent of the causal process involved, based upon a general rule from which the correctness of the particular case follows only by subsumption. I establish possibility of an alternative model, by sketching an account of the causal dependence of perceptual knowledge (...)
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  16. Andreas Hüttemann (2013). Einige Bemerkungen zum Prinzip der kausalen Abgeschlossenheit des Physischen. In Jan Michel & Gernot Münster (eds.), Die Suche nach dem Geist. mentis.
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  17. Andrew J. Jaeger (2011). Mental Causation as Teleological Causation. Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 85:161-171.
    I argue that the Causal Closure Argument (CCA) and the Explanatory Exclusion Argument (EEA) fail to show that mental causes must either be reduced/ identical to physical causes or that mental causes are epiphenomenal. I begin by granting the soundness of CCA and EEA and go on to argue that they only rule out irreducible mental efficient causes/explanations. A proponent of irreducible mental causation can, therefore, grant the soundness of CCA and EEA, provided she holds mental causation/explanation to be teleological. (...)
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  18. Kile Jones (2008). The Causal Closure of Physics: An Explanation and Critique. World Futures 64 (3):179 – 186.
    Is the physical world causally closed? Can something immaterial have any causal role within physics? This article seeks to answer these questions by explaining the theory of Causal Closure. Causal Closure says that nothing immaterial can have any causal efficacy upon the material world. Physicalists have long held this position and have used it as an argument against Dualism, but does it hold? The hope of this article is that we may better understand the arguments for and against Causal Closure (...)
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  19. Christian List & Peter Menzies, My Brain Made Me Do It: The Exclusion Argument Against Free Will, and What’s Wrong with It.
    In this short paper, we offer a critical assessment of the "exclusion argument against free will". While the exclusion argument has received much attention in the literature on mental causation, it is seldom discussed in relation to free will. However, in a more informal way, the argument has become increasingly influential in neuroscientific discussions of free will, where it plausibly underlies the view that advances in neuroscience, with its mechanistic picture of how the brain generates thought and behaviour, seriously challenge (...)
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  20. E. J. Lowe (2000). Causal Closure Principles and Emergentism. Philosophy 75 (294):571-586.
    Causal closure arguments against interactionist dualism are currently popular amongst physicalists. Such an argument appeals to some principles of the causal closure of the physical, together with certain other premises, to conclude that at least some mental events are identical with physical events. However, it is crucial to the success of any such argument that the physical causal closure principle to which it appeals is neither too strong nor too weak by certain standards. In this paper, it is argued that (...)
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  21. Cynthia Macdonald & Graham Macdonald (2010). Emergence and Downward Causation. In Cynthia Macdonald & Graham Macdonald (eds.), Emergence in Mind. Oxford University Press.
  22. Nicholas Maxwell (1968). Understanding Sensations. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 46 (August):127-146.
    My aim in this paper is to defend a version of the brain process theory, or identity thesis, which differs in one important respect from the theory put forward by J.J.C. Smart. I shall argue that although the sensations which a person experiences are, as a matter of contingent fact, brain processes, nonetheless there are facts about sensations which cannot be described or understood in terms of any physical theory. These 'mental' facts cannot be described by physics for the simple (...)
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  23. Andrew Melnyk (2003). Some Evidence for Physicalism. In Sven Walter & Heinz-Dieter Heckmann (eds.), Physicalism and Mental Causation. Imprint Academic. 155-172.
    This paper presents an irreducibly inductive argument for physicalism based on the causal closure of the physical (for which it argues), and defends it against various detractors.
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  24. Wilson Mendonça (2010). Mental Causation and the Causal Completeness of Physics. Principia 6 (1):121-132.
    The paper takes issue with a widely accepted view of mental causation. This is the view that mental causation is either reducible to physical causation or ultimately untenable, because incompatible with the causal completeness of physics. The paper examines, first, why recent attempts to save the phenomena of mental causation by way of the notion of supervenient causation fail. The result of this examination is the claim that any attempted specification of the most basic causal factors which supposedly underlie a (...)
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  25. Barbara Montero (2006). What Does the Conservation of Energy Have to Do with Physicalism? Dialectica 60 (4):383-396.
    The conservation of energy law, a law of physics that states that the total energy of any closed system is always conserved, is a bedrock principle that has achieved both broad theoretical and experimental support. Yet if interactive dualism is correct, it is thought that the mind can affect physical objects in violation of the conservation of energy. Thus, some claim, the conservation of energy grounds an argument for physicalism. Although critics of the argument focus on the implausibility of causation (...)
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  26. Barbara Montero (2003). The Epistemic/Ontic Divide. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (2):404-418.
    A number of philosophers think that, while we cannot explain how the mind is physical, we can know that it is physical, nonetheless. That is, they accept both the explanatory gap between the mental and the physical and ontological physicalism. I argue that this position is unstable. Among other things, I argue that once one accepts the explanatory gap, the main argument for ontological physicalism, the argument from causation, looses its force. For if one takes physical/nonphysical causation and ontological physicalism (...)
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  27. Barbara Montero (2003). The Epistemic/Ontic Divide. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 66 (2):404 - 418.
    A number of philosophers think that, while we cannot explain how the mind is physical, we can know that it is physical, nonetheless. That is, they accept both the explanatory gap between the mental and the physical and ontological physicalism. I argue that this position is unstable. Among other things, I argue that once one accepts the explanatory gap, the main argument for ontological physicalism, the argument from causation, looses its force. For if one takes physical/nonphysical causation and ontological physicalism (...)
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  28. Barbara Montero (2003). Varieties of Causal Closure. In Sven Walter & Heinz-Dieter Heckmann (eds.), Physicalism and Mental Causation. Imprint Academic. 173-187.
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  29. Barbara Montero & David Papineau (2005). A Defense of the Via Negativa Argument for Physicalism. Analysis 65 (287):233-237.
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  30. Kevin Morris (2014). Causal Closure, Causal Exclusion, and Supervenience Physicalism. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 95 (1):72-86.
    This article considers the recent defense of the supervenience approach to physicalism due to Jaegwon Kim. Kim argues that supervenience supports physical causal closure, and that causal closure supports physicalism – indeed, a kind of reductive physicalism – and thus that supervenience suffices for physicalism. After laying out Kim's argument, I ask whether its success would truly vindicate the role of supervenience in defining physicalist positions. I argue that it would not, and that insofar as Kim's defense of supervenience physicalism (...)
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  31. Alyssa Ney (2012). The Causal Contribution of Mental Events. In Hill Christopher & Gozzano Simone (eds.), New Perspectives on Type Identity: The Mental and the Physical. Cambridge University Press. 230.
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  32. David Papineau (2013). Causation is Macroscopic but Not Irreducible. In Sophie C. Gibb & Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson (eds.), Mental Causation and Ontology. Oxford University Press. 126.
    In this paper I argue that causation is an essentially macroscopic phenomenon, and that mental causes are therefore capable of outcompeting their more specific physical realizers as causes of physical effects. But I also argue that any causes must be type-identical with physical properties, on pain of positing inexplicable physical conspiracies. I therefore allow macroscopic mental causation, but only when it is physically reducible.
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  33. David Papineau (2009). The Causal Closure of the Physical and Naturalism. In Brian McLaughlin, Ansgar Beckermann & Sven Walter (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oup Oxford.
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  34. David Papineau (2001). The Rise of Physicalism. In Carl Gillett & Barry M. Loewer (eds.), Physicalism and its Discontents. Cambridge University Press.
    In this paper I want to discuss the way in which physical science has come to claim a particular kind of hegemony over other subjects in the second half of this century. This claim to hegemony is generally known by the name of "physicalism". In this paper I shall try to understand why this doctrine has come to prominence in recent decades. By placing this doctrine in a historical context, we will be better able to appreciate its strengths and weaknesses.
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  35. David Papineau (2000). 10 The Rise of Physicalism. In M. W. F. Stone & Jonathan Wolff (eds.), The Proper Ambition of Science. Routledge. 2--174.
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  36. David Papineau (1991). The Reason Why: Response to Crane. Analysis 51 (January):37-40.
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  37. Tuomas K. Pernu (2013). Interactions and Exclusions: Studies on Causal Explanation in Naturalistic Philosophy of Mind. Dissertation, University of Helsinki
    The notion of causal explanation is an essential element of the naturalistic world view. This view is typically interpreted to claim that we are only licensed to postulate entities that make a causal difference , or have causal power . The rest are epiphenomena and hence eliminable from the correct view of reality. The worry that some entities and phenomena that we take for granted mental properties in particular turn out to be epiphenomenal, can be seen as stemming from this (...)
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  38. Panu Raatikainen (2013). Can The Mental Be Causally Efficacious? In K. Talmont-Kaminski M. Milkowski (ed.), Regarding the Mind, Naturally: Naturalist Approaches to the Sciences of the Mental. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
  39. Jack Ritchie (2005). Causal Compatibilism -- What Chance? Erkenntnis 63 (1):119-132.
    Orthodox physicalism has a problem with mental causation. If physics is complete and mental events are not identical to physical events (as multiple-realisation arguments imply) it seems as though there is no causal work for the mental to do. This paper examines some recent attempts to overcome this problem by analysing causation in terms of counterfactuals or conditional probabilities. It is argued that these solutions cannot simultaneously capture the force of the completeness of physics and make room for mental causation.
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  40. David Robb, Could Mental Causation Be Invisible?
    E.J. Lowe has recently proposed a model of mental causation on which mental events are emergent, thus exerting a novel, downward causal influence on physical events. Yet on Lowe's model, mental causation is at the same time empirically undetectable, and in this sense is "invisible". Lowe's model is ingenious, but I don't think emergentists should welcome it, for it seems to me that a primary virtue of emergentism is its bold empirical prediction about the long-term results of human physiology. Here (...)
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  41. David Robb & John Heil, Mental Causation. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
    Worries about mental causation are prominent in contemporary discussions of the mind and human agency. Originally, the problem of mental causation was that of understanding how a mental substance (thought to be immaterial) could interact with a material substance, a body. Most philosophers nowadays repudiate immaterial minds, but the problem of mental causation has not gone away. Instead, focus has shifted to mental properties. How could mental properties be causally relevant to bodily behavior? How could something mental qua mental cause (...)
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  42. Michael Roche (2014). Causal Overdetermination and Kim's Exclusion Argument. Philosophia 42 (3):809-826.
    Jaegwon Kim’s influential exclusion argument attempts to demonstrate the inconsistency of nonreductive materialism in the philosophy of mind. Kim’s argument begins by showing that the three main theses of nonreductive materialism, plus two additional considerations, lead to a specific and (by now) familiar picture of mental causation. The exclusion argument can succeed only if, as Kim claims, this picture is not one of genuine causal overdetermination. Accordingly, one can resist Kim’s conclusion by denying this claim, maintaining instead that the effects (...)
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  43. Constantine Sandis & Giuseppina D'Oro (2013). Reasons and Causes. Palgrave Macmillan.
  44. A. M. Soto, C. Sonnenschein & P. A. Miquel (2008). On Physicalism and Downward Causation in Developmental and Cancer Biology. Acta Biotheoretica 56 (4):257-274.
    The dominant position in Philosophy of Science contends that downward causation is an illusion. Instead, we argue that downward causation doesn’t introduce vicious circles either in physics or in biology. We also question the metaphysical claim that “physical facts fix all the facts.” Downward causation does not imply any contradiction if we reject the assumption of the completeness and the causal closure of the physical world that this assertion contains. We provide an argument for rejecting this assumption. Furthermore, this allows (...)
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  45. David Spurrett (2005). Bhaskar on Open and Closed Systems. South African Journal of Philosophy 19 (3):188-209.
    Bhaskar's articulation of his ‘transcendental realism' includes an argument for a form of causal emergence which would mean the rejection of physicalism, by means of rejecting the causal closure of the physical. His argument is based on an analysis of the conditions for closure, where closed systems manifest regular or Humean relations between events. Bhaskar argues that the project of seeking closure entails commitment to a strong (and implausible) reductionism, which in turn entails the impossibility of science itself, and concludes (...)
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  46. David Spurrett, The Completeness of Physics.
    The present work is focussed on the completeness of physics, or what is here called the Completeness Thesis: the claim that the domain of the physical is causally closed. Two major questions are tackled: How best is the Completeness Thesis to be formulated? What can be said in defence of the Completeness Thesis? My principal conclusions are that the Completeness Thesis can be coherently formulated, and that the evidence in favour if it significantly outweighs that against it. In opposition to (...)
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  47. David Jon Spurrett (1999). Fundamental Laws and the Completeness of Physics. International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 13 (3):261 – 274.
    The status of fundamental laws is an important issue when deciding between the three broad ontological options of fundamentalism (of which the thesis that physics is complete is typically a sub-type), emergentism, and disorder or promiscuous realism. Cartwright’s assault on fundamental laws which argues that such laws do not, and cannot, typically state the facts, and hence cannot be used to support belief in a fundamental ontological order, is discussed in this context. A case is made in defence of a (...)
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  48. David Spurrett & David Papineau (1999). A Note on the Completeness of "Physics". Analysis 59 (1):25-29.
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  49. Henry Stapp, Physicalism Versus Quantum Mechanics.
    In the context of theories of the connection between mind and brain, physicalism is the demand that all is basically purely physical. But the conception of “physical” embodied in this demand is characterized essentially by the properties of the physical that hold in classical physical theories. Certain of those properties contradict the character of the physical in quantum mechanics, which provides a better, more comprehensive, and more fundamental account of phenomena. It is argued that the difficulties that have plagued physicalists (...)
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  50. Justin Tiehen (forthcoming). Explaining Causal Closure. Philosophical Studies:1-21.
    The physical realm is causally closed, but why is it causally closed? In what follows I argue that reductive physicalists are committed to embracing one explanation of causal closure to the exclusion of others, and that as a result they must give up on using a causal argument to attack mind-body dualism.
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