Generalized epiphenomenalism

Abstract

I want to show that a common and plausible interpretation of what science tells us about the fundamental structure of the world – the ‘scientific picture of the world’ or SPW for short – leads to what I’ll call ‘generalized epiphenomenalism’, which is the view that the only features of the world that possess causal efficacy are fundamental physical features. I think that generalized epiphenomenalism follows pretty straightforwardly from the SPW as I’ll present it, but it might seem that, once granted, generalized epiphenomenalism is fairly innocuous, since its threat is too diffuse to provoke traditional worries about the epiphenomenal nature of mental states. If mental states are epiphenomenal only in the same sense that the putative powers of hurricanes, psyche- delic drugs or hydrogen bombs are epiphenomenal, then probably there is not much to worry about in the epiphenomenalism of the mental. I agree that the epiphenomenalism of hurricanes and the like is manageable, but it will turn out that ensuring manageability requires that mental states have an ontological status fundamentally different from that of hurricanes, drugs and bombs, a status that is in fact inconsistent with the SPW. So I’ll argue that generalized epiphenomenalism does have some seriously worrying consequences after all

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William Seager
University of Toronto at Scarborough

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