Mental causation without downward causation

Philosophical Review 115 (1):79-103 (2006)
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Abstract

The problem of downward causation is that an intuitive response to an intuitive picture leads to counterintuitive results. Suppose a mental event, m1, causes another mental event, m2. Unless the mental and the physical are completely independent, there will be a physical event in your brain or your body or the physical world as a whole that underlies this event. The mental event occurs at least partly in virtue of the physical event’s occurring. And the same goes for m2 [2] and p2. Let’s not worry about what exactly “underlying” or “in virtue of” means here. Here’s the picture. m1 -----> m2 | | p1 -----> p2 The horizontal arrows represent causation, and the vertical lines represent underlying, whatever that may be. There’s some reason to think that the only way m1 can bring about m2 is by bringing about p2. You can’t convince someone of something through mental telepathy. You need to interact with the physical world, perhaps by saying something and so making some noise, or by pointing and getting them to turn their head and see. What goes for the case of two people goes for the case of one person as well. Superstition aside, there is no purely mental energy that floats free of the merely physical workings of the brain. If m1 brings about m2 by bringing about p2, then m1 brings about p2. This is downward causation. But wait. Doesn’t p1 bring about p2? Isn’t that what the bottom arrow represents? Maybe m1 and p1 work together to bring about p2. There are little holes in the physical causal structure that need to be filled by mental events. You don’t need a sweeping metaphysical thesis about the causal closure of the physical to find this implausible. Maybe p2 is overdetermined

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References found in this work

Mental Events.Donald Davidson - 1970 - In L. Foster & J. W. Swanson (eds.), Experience and Theory. Clarendon Press. pp. 207-224.
Mental Causation.Stephen Yablo - 1992 - Philosophical Review 101 (2):245-280.
Multiple Realization and the Metaphysics of Reduction.Jaegwon Kim - 1992 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52 (1):1-26.
Realization and Mental Causation.Sydney Shoemaker - 2000 - The Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy 9:23-33.

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