About this topic
Summary One of the problems of mental causation involves showing how the popular externalist view of how mental content is individuated can be compatible with the claim that mental states are causally efficacious in virtue of their content. For example, if your belief that the water in the bucket is frozen is part of what causes you to put the bucket over a fire, it does so in virtue of the fact that it has that content (and not, say, the content that the water in the bucket is steaming hot). Semantic externalism is the idea that mental contents are individuated partly in terms of thinkers' relations to the environment: for example, you think about water because you're in a world that has water, but a physically identical twin on a planet with a similar-seeming substance (but not H2O) would think about that substance. Hilary Putnam expressed this as the idea that contents "ain't in the head". The problem is to reconcile this fact about content individuation with the idea that causal relationships are in some sense "local" or "in the head". 
Key works Putnam 1975 and Burge 1979 are seminal defenses of the ideas that the individuation of mental content depends at least in part on relations between thinkers and (respectively) their physical and social environments. Arguments for a notion of narrow (or non-relational) content, such as Fodor 1991, are often motivated by the idea that wide content is incompatible with causal efficacy, while others, such as Jacob 1992, defend a view in which wide content is compatible with causal relevance if not efficacy. Burge 1989 and Dretske 1988 (summarized in Dretske 1990) defend influential compatibilist views, while Yablo 1996 suggests a more generalized compatibilism framed in response to Jaegwon Kim's problem of causal exclusion (the general claim that physical properties 'screen off' mental properties). 
Introductions Putnam 1975; Burge 1979; Jacob 1993; Peacocke 1993;Wilson 1992. An accessible (though longer) discussion is included in Fodor 1994, while Heil & Mele 1993 is an excellent collection of articles on various problems of mental causation. 
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56 found
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  1. added 2018-06-05
    Causal Relevance and Thought Content.Kirk A. Ludwig - 1993 - Philosophical Quarterly 44 (176):334-353.
    It is natural to think that our ordinary practices in giving explanations for our actions, for what we do, commit us to claiming that content properties are causally relevant to physical events such as the movements of our limbs and bodies, and events which these in turn cause. If you want to know why my body arnbulates across the street, or why my arm went up before I set out, we suppose I have given you an answer when I say (...)
  2. added 2017-04-17
    The Burning Barn Fallacy in Defenses of Externalism About Mental Content.Anthony Newman - 2006 - Journal of Philosophical Research 31:37-57.
    Externalism says that many ordinary mental contents are constituted by relations to things outside the mental subject’s head. An infl uential objection says that externalism is incompatible with our commonsense belief in mental causation, because such extrinsic relations cannot play the important causal role in producing behavior that we ordinarily think mental content plays.An extremely common response is that it is simply obvious, from examples of ordinary causal processes, that extrinsic relations can play the desired causal role. In this paper (...)
  3. added 2017-04-17
    Externalism and Mental Causation.Pierre Jacob - 1992 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 92 (1):203-219.
  4. added 2016-09-01
    VII—The Supervenience of Mental Content.Manuel García-Carpintero - 1994 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 94 (1):117-136.
    This paper assumes an exteernalist view of content, and argues that the Twin Earth considerations do not establish that content properties relationally individuated do not strongly supervene on micro-physical properties, on the basis that the relevant physical supervenience basis might well be equally relationally specified. For all that we know, it is reasonable to ascribe causal efficacy to broad contents, even when we accept the supervenience constraint in its strongest form.
  5. added 2016-07-12
    X—Externalism and Mental Causation.Pierre Jacob - 1992 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 92 (1):203-220.
  6. added 2016-04-06
    Why Broad Content Can't Influence Behaviour.Cressida Gaukroger - 2017 - Synthese 194 (8):3005–3020.
    This article examines one argument in favour of the position that the relational properties of mental states do not have causal powers over behaviour. This argument states that we establish that the relational properties of mental states do not have causal powers by considering cases where intrinsic properties remain the same but relational properties vary to see whether, under such circumstances, behaviour would ever vary. The individualist argues that behaviour will not vary with relational properties alone, which means that they (...)
  7. added 2016-01-18
    Semantic Externalism.Jesper Kallestrup - 2011 - Routledge.
    Semantic externalism is the view that the meanings of referring terms, and the contents of beliefs that are expressed by those terms, are not fully determined by factors internal to the speaker but are instead bound up with the environment. The debate about semantic externalism is one of the most important but difficult topics in philosophy of mind and language, and has consequences for our understanding of the role of social institutions and the physical environment in constituting language and the (...)
  8. added 2015-08-25
    The Internal and External Components of Cognition.Ralph Wedgwood - 2006 - In Robert J. Stainton (ed.), Contemporary Debates in Cognitive Science. Malden MA: Blackwell. pp. 307-325.
    Timothy Williamson has presented several arguments that seek to cast doubt on the idea that cognition can be factorized into internal and external components. In the first section of this paper, I attempt to evaluate these arguments. My conclusion will be that these arguments establish several highly important points, but in the end these arguments fail to cast any doubt either on the idea that cognitive science should be largely concerned with internal mental processes, or on the idea that cognition (...)
  9. added 2015-03-09
    Causal Efficacy and Externalist Mental Content.Anthony E. Newman - 2002 - Dissertation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Internalism about mental content is the view that microphysical duplicates must be mental duplicates as well. This dissertation develops and defends the idea that only a strong version of internalism is compatible with our commonsense commitment to mental causation. ;Chapter one defends a novel necessary condition on a property's being causally efficacious---viz., that any property F that is efficacious with respect to event E cannot be instantiated in virtue of any property G that is itself ceteris paribus sufficient for E---and (...)
  10. added 2014-08-04
    Wide Causation.S. Yablo - 1996 - Philosophical Perspectives 11 (11):251-281.
  11. added 2014-04-02
    Non-Cartesian Explanations Meet the Problem of Mental Causation.Richard Montgomery - 1995 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 33 (2):221-41.
  12. added 2014-04-02
    Externalism and the Explanatory Relevance of Broad Content.Pierre Jacob - 1993 - Mind and Language 8 (1):131-156.
  13. added 2014-04-01
    Externalism, Content, and Causation.M. Klein - 1996 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 96:159-76.
  14. added 2014-04-01
    Good Reasoning and Cognitive Architecture.Scott Sturgeon - 1994 - Mind and Language 9 (1):88-101.
  15. added 2014-04-01
    Content, Computation, and Externalism.Christopher Peacocke - 1994 - Mind and Language 9 (3):227-264.
  16. added 2014-04-01
    The Causal Efficacy of Content.Gabriel Segal & Elliott Sober - 1991 - Philosophical Studies 63 (July):1-30.
  17. added 2014-03-31
    Individualism and the Cross-Contexts Test.J. Barrett - 1997 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 78 (3):242-60.
    Jerry Fodor has defended the claim that psychological theories should appeal to narrow rather than wide intentional properties. One of his arguments relies upon the cross contexts test, a test that purports to determine whether two events have the same causally relevant properties. Critics have charged that this test is too weak, since it counts certain genuinely explanatory relational properties in science as being causally irrelevant. Further, it has been claimed, the test is insensitive to the fact that special scientific (...)
  18. added 2014-03-31
    Individualism, Causal Powers, and Explanation.Robert A. Wilson - 1992 - Philosophical Studies 68 (2):103-39.
    This paper examines a recent, influential argument for individualism in psychology defended by Jerry Fodor and others, what I call the argument from causal powers. I argue that this argument equivocates on the crucial notion of "causal powers", and that this equivocation constitutes a deep problem for arguments of this type. Relational and individualistic taxonomies are incompatible, and it does not seem in general to be possible to factor the former into the latter. The distinction between powers and properties plays (...)
  19. added 2014-03-31
    Content, Causation, and Cognitive Science.David M. Braun - 1991 - Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69 (4):375-89.
  20. added 2014-03-30
    Content, Causation, and Psychophysical Supervenience.Joseph Owens - 1993 - Philosophy of Science 60 (2):242-61.
    There is a growing acceptance of the idea that the explanatory states of folk psychology do not supervene on the physical. Even Fodor (1987) seems to grant as much. He argues, however, that this cannot be true of theoretical psychology. Since theoretical psychology offers causal explanations, its explanatory states must be taxonomized in such a way as to supervene on the physical. I use this concession to invert his argument and cast doubt on the received model of folk psychological explanation (...)
  21. added 2014-03-29
    Content and Causal Powers.Eric Saidel - 1994 - Philosophy of Science 61 (4):658-65.
    Owens (1993) argues that a tension exists between our commonsense view of mental states and the scientific view that psychological explanations not contradict supervenience. He suggests that one cannot accept the anti-individualistic conclusions of Twin-Earth thought experiments and continue to use folk psychological states to explain behavior. I argue that his conclusions are based on individuating content widely and causal powers narrowly, and that such individuation violates consistency assumptions about the terms of his discussion. Thus, I argue, the tension he (...)
  22. added 2014-03-27
    It is What You Think: Intentional Potency and Anti-Individualism.Brendan J. Lalor - 1997 - Philosophical Psychology 10 (2):165-78.
    In this paper I argue against the worried view that intentional properties might be epiphenomenal. In naturalizing intentionality we ought to reject both the idea that causal powers of intentional states must supervene on local microstructures, and the idea that local supervenience justifies worries about intentional epiphenomenality since our states could counterfactually lack their intentional properties and yet have the same effects. I contend that what's wrong with even the good guys (e.g. Dennett, Dretske, Allen) is that they implicitly grant (...)
  23. added 2014-03-26
    Causation by Content?Paul Noordhof - 1999 - Mind and Language 14 (3):291-320.
  24. added 2014-03-26
    Externalism and Causality: Simulation and the Prospects for a Reconciliation.Dona Warren - 1999 - Mind and Language 14 (1):154-176.
  25. added 2014-03-26
    Content, Causal Powers, and Context.Keith Butler - 1996 - Philosophy of Science 63 (1):105-14.
    Owens (1993) argues that one cannot accept the anti-individualistic conclusions of arguments inspired by Twin Earth thought experiments and still maintain that folk psychological states causally explain behavior. Saidel (1994) has argued that Owens' argument illegitimately individuates the contents of folk psychological states widely and causal powers narrowly. He suggests that causal powers may well be wide, and that the conditions that militate in favor of wide content also militate in favor of wide causal powers; mutatis mutandis for narrow content (...)
  26. added 2014-03-24
    Individualism and the New Logical Connections Argument.Anthony B. Dardis - 2002 - Croatian Journal of Philosophy 2 (4):83-102.
    Jerry Fodor argues for individualism and for narrow content by way of rejecting an argument based on the conceptual connections between reason-properties and action-properties. In this paper I show that Fodor’s argument fails. He is right that there is a New Logical Connections Argument to be made, and that it does show that water thoughts and XYZ thoughts are not different causal powers with respect to intentional properties of behaviors. However, the New Logical Connections Argument also shows that they are (...)
  27. added 2014-03-22
    Alternative Individualism.Denis M. Walsh - 1999 - Philosophy of Science 66 (4):628-648.
    Psychological individualism is motivated by two taxonomic principles: (i) that psychological states are individuated by their causal powers, and (ii) that causal powers supervene upon intrinsic physiological state. I distinguish two interpretations of individualism--the 'orthodox' and the 'alternative'--each of which is consistent with these motivating principles. I argue that the alternative interpretation is legitimately individualistic on the grounds that it accurately reflects the actual taxonomic practices of bona fide individualistic sciences. The classification of homeobox genes in developmental genetics provides an (...)
  28. added 2014-03-19
    The Burning Barn Fallacy in Defenses of Externalism About Mental Content.Anthony Newman - 2006 - Journal of Philosophical Research 31:37-57.
    Externalism says that many ordinary mental contents are constituted by relations to things outside the mental subject’s head. An infl uential objection says that externalism is incompatible with our commonsense belief in mental causation, because such extrinsic relations cannot play the important causal role in producing behavior that we ordinarily think mental content plays.An extremely common response is that it is simply obvious, from examples of ordinary causal processes, that extrinsic relations can play the desired causal role. In this paper (...)
  29. added 2014-03-19
    Causation by Relational Properties.Wim De Muijnck - 2002 - Grazer Philosophische Studien 65 (1):123-137.
    In discussions on mental causation and externalism, it is often assumed that extrinsic, or relational, properties cannot have causal efficacy. In this paper I argue that this assumption is based on a category mistake, in that causal efficacy (dependence among events or states of affairs) is confused with causal influence (persistence of and interaction among objects). I then argue that relational properties are indeed causally efficacious, which I explain with the help of Dretske's notion of a 'structuring cause'.
  30. added 2014-03-10
    Semantic Externalism and the Mechanics of Thought.Carrie Figdor - 2009 - Minds and Machines 19 (1):1-24.
    I review a widely accepted argument to the conclusion that the contents of our beliefs, desires and other mental states cannot be causally efficacious in a classical computational model of the mind. I reply that this argument rests essentially on an assumption about the nature of neural structure that we have no good scientific reason to accept. I conclude that computationalism is compatible with wide semantic causal efficacy, and suggest how the computational model might be modified to accommodate this possibility.
  31. added 2014-02-10
    Psychosemantics: The Problem of Meaning In the Philosophy of Mind, by J. Fodor.Jay L. Garfield - 1991 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51 (1):235-240.
  32. added 2013-11-23
    Brains in a Vat, Subjectivity, and the Causal Theory of Reference.Kirk Ludwig - 1992 - Journal of Philosophical Research 17:313-345.
    This paper evaluates Putnam’s argument in the first chapter of Reason, Truth and History, for the claim that we can know that we are not brains in a vat (of a certain sort). A widespread response to Putnam’s argument has been that if it were successful not only the world but the meanings of our words (and consequently our thoughts) would be beyond the pale of knowledge, because a causal theory of reference is not compatible with our having knowledge of (...)
  33. added 2011-03-21
    Reply to Russow.Frederick Adams - 1993 - Philosophical Psychology 6 (1):63 – 65.
    In 'Fodor's Modal Argument' I claim that Fodor's latest defence of narrow content does not work. I claim that Fodor's modal argument is an unsuccessful resurrection of the Logical Connection Argument. Russow claims that my arguments fail because I confuse cause properties with causal powers, focus on events rather than properties, and overlook the fact that Fodor is trying only to explain narrow behavior. In this paper, I plead 'not guilty' to all of Fodor's charges. Narrow content still does not (...)
  34. added 2010-06-22
    Mental Causation.John Heil - 2002 - In Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.), Revue Philosophique de la France Et de l'Etranger. Blackwell. pp. 29--52.
  35. added 2010-06-22
    Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Mind.Stephen P. Stich & Ted A. Warfield (eds.) - 2002 - Blackwell.
  36. added 2010-06-22
    Cognitive Patterns in Science and Common Sense.Lex Guichard - 1995 - Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  37. added 2010-06-09
    Brain and Consciousness: Exits From the Labyrinth.Vadim V. Vasilyev - 2006 - Social Sciences 37 (2):51-66.
  38. added 2009-06-29
    Does Externalism Entail the Anomalism of the Mental?Nicholas Shea - 2003 - Philosophical Quarterly 53 (211):201-213.
    In ‘Mental Events’ Donald Davidson argued for the anomalism of the mental on the basis of the operation of incompatible constitutive principles in the mental and physical domains. Many years later, he has suggested that externalism provides further support for the anomalism of the mental. I examine the basis for that claim. The answer to the question in the title will be a qualified ‘Yes’. That is an important result in the metaphysics of mind and an interesting consequence of externalism.
  39. added 2009-06-29
    Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice.Tyler Burge - 1993 - In John Heil & Alfred R. Mele (eds.), Mental Causation. Oxford University Press.
    Argument for Epiphenomenalism [I]: (A) Mental event-tokens are identical with physical event-tokens. (B) The causal powers of a physical event are determined only by its physical properties; and (C) mental properties are not reducible to physical properties.
  40. added 2009-06-29
    Externalist Explanation.Christopher Peacocke - 1993 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 67:203-30.
  41. added 2008-12-31
    Intentional Properties and Causation.Tyler Burge - 1995 - In C. Macdonald & Graham F. Macdonald (eds.), Philosophy of Psychology: Debates About Psychological Explanation. Blackwell.
  42. added 2008-12-31
    The Causal Efficacy of Propositional Attitudes.Lex Guichard - 1995 - In Cognitive Patterns in Science and Common Sense. Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  43. added 2008-12-31
    Reply: Intentional Properties and Causation.Tyler Burge - 1995 - In C. Macdonald (ed.), Philosophy of Psychology: Debates on Psychological Explanation. Cambridge: Blackwell.
  44. added 2008-12-31
    The Supervenience of Mental Content.Manuel Garcia-Carpintero - 1994 - Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 68:117-135.
    Defends the supervenience of mental content under an externalist view of both contents and the supervenience base.
  45. added 2008-12-31
    Content and Context.Lynne Rudder Baker - 1994 - Philosophical Perspectives 8:17-32.
  46. added 2008-12-31
    Fodor's Modal Argument.Frederick R. Adams - 1993 - Philosophical Psychology 6 (1):41-56.
    What we do, intentionally, depends upon the intentional contents of our thoughts. For about ten years Fodor has argued that intentional behavior causally depends upon the narrow intentional content of thoughts (not broad). His main reason is a causal powers argument—brains of individuals A and B may differ in broad content, but, if A and B are neurophysically identical, their thoughts cannot differ in causal power, despite differences in broad content. Recently Fodor (Fodor, 1991) presents a new 'modal' version of (...)
  47. added 2008-12-31
    Against A Priori Arguments for Individualism.Robert A. Wilson - 1993 - Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74 (1):60-79.
  48. added 2008-12-31
    Fodor, Adams, and Causal Properties.L. M. Russow - 1993 - Philosophical Psychology 6 (1):57-61.
  49. added 2008-12-31
    Some of the Difference in the World: Crane on Intentional Causation.Daniel Seymour - 1993 - Philosophical Quarterly 44 (170):83-89.
  50. added 2008-12-31
    Causal Powers and Conceptual Connections.D. Christensen - 1992 - Analysis 52 (3):163-8.
    In "A Modal Argument for Narrow Content" ("Journal of Philosophy", LXXXVIII, 1991, pp 5-26), Jerry Fodor proposes a necessary condition for the distinctness of causal powers. He uses this condition to support psychological individualism. I show that Fodor's argument relies on inconsistent interpretations of his condition on distinct causal powers. Moreover, on no consistent interpretation does Fodor's condition yield the results claimed for it.
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