Ersatz Robots

Philosophy of Mind and Graduate Philosophy Study

Paper Submission I: Andrew Lee

It would seem we have our first philosophy of mind paper submission (other than mine)! And what’s better, it’s quite good. So, today I bring you: “Strong Causal Closure, Total Causal Closure, and Physicalism” by Andrew Lee.

I have done my best to maintain the normal formatting of the paper while making sure it can be read here on the blog. If you spot any problems, let me know. Enjoy, and don’t forget to comment (my own comments will be showing up sometime soon).

Strong Causal Closure, Total Causal Closure, and Physicalism

By: Andrew Lee

ABSTRACT

I examine here the relationship between physical causal closure and physicalism. In particular, I compare strong causal closure and total causal closure, and consider the implications each thesis has for physicalism. In Section I, I give arguments for weak causal closure and strong causal closure, including a new argument for weak causal closure that uses only mind-body superenience as a premise. Then I consider what it takes to get to total causal closure, and argue that an asymmetry between causal closure and what I call converse causal closure makes total causal closure much more difficult to establish than strong causal closure. In Section II, I examine the relationship between total causal closure and physicalism. In particular, I consider the problems that a dualist would face if total causal closure were accepted. In Section III, I examine the relationship between strong causal closure and physicalism. I again consider the problems that a dualist would face if strong causal closure were accepted, comparing the results with those of the previous section. In Section IV, I consider the upshot of my arguments, and make an important qualification about the epistemic strength of my conclusions. Throughout the paper, I make three claims: 1) Strong causal closure is much easier to establish than total causal closure, 2) If total causal closure is true, we have very good reason to accept physicalism, and 3) If strong causal closure is true and epiphenomenalism is false, then we have very good reason to accept total causal closure. From these claims, I conclude by arguing that if epiphenomenalism can be ruled out, then we have a strong case for physicalism that uses just a few plausible premises.

INTRODUCTION

There is a close relationship between physicalism[1] and physical causal closure.[2] In this paper, I will compare strong causal closure and total causal closure, focusing on their relationship to physicalism. I make three claims throughout the paper: 1) Strong causal closure is much easier to establish than total causal closure, 2)  If total causal closure is true, we have very good reason to accept physicalism, and 3) If strong causal closure is true and epiphenomenalism is false, then we have very good reason to accept total causal closure.

This paper has four sections. In Section I, I give arguments for weak causal closure and strong causal closure, and consider what it takes to get to total causal closure. In Section II, I consider the relationship between total causal closure and physicalism. In Section III, I consider the relationship between strong causal closure and physicalism. In Section IV, I consider the upshots of my arguments.

I. ARGUMENTS FOR CAUSAL CLOSURE[3]

In this section, I will consider arguments for physical causal closure. I will first argue that we can establish weak causal closure with only mind-body supervenience as a premise.[4] Then I will argue that we can go from weak causal closure to strong causal closure by invoking two more plausible premises: causal exclusion and no overdetermination. Finally, I will argue that total causal closure is much harder to establish than strong causal closure, and requires the addition of further, less plausible premises.

To begin, we need the following premise to establish weak causal closure:

P1) Mind-body supervenience: Mental events[5] are dependent upon and determined by physical events. Every mental event has a sufficient, synchronous physical base.

The argument for weak causal closure may proceed as follows.[6] Let our universe of discourse be restricted to the physical and the mental domains, and let e be an arbitrary event that has a cause at time t. The strategy is to use P1 to establish that 1) e could not have occurred without some physical event at t (with some taking narrow scope), and 2) that physical event is sufficient for e. Formally, we wish to establish e⊃∃x(Px & Tx & x⊃e), with P meaning is a physical event and T meaning occurs at time t. From this, we can establish that e must have a physical cause at t.

We can use a reductio ad absurdum to show that e could not have occurred without somenarrow-scope physical event at t that is sufficient for e. Suppose that e does not have a physical cause at t. Ex hypothesi, there is a cause of e at time t. Since our universe of discourse is limited to the physical and mental domains, the cause of e must be a mental event—call it m. By P1, m must have a sufficient subvenient physical base at t. Call this base p. p is sufficient for m, and m is sufficient for e. By transitivity, p is sufficient for e. Since p is arbitrary, there must be some physical event at time t that is sufficient for e. On the other hand, p is not necessary for e because it might have been the case that m had some other subvenient base, such as p*. But because p is arbitrary, we can apply the same argument above to p*, or to any physical event that is the subvenient base of m (or whatever mental event causes e). Therefore, there must be some physical event at t that is sufficient for e, but the “some” must take narrow-scope.

From this, we can establish that the physical event at t that is sufficient for e qualifies as a cause of e. Under two of the most influential accounts of causation—the counterfactual dependency account and the nomological sufficiency account—e must have a physical cause at t. Under the counterfactual dependency account, e must have a physical cause because it could not have occurred without somenarrow-scope physical event.[7] Under the nomological necessity account, e must have a physical cause because the physical event is sufficient for e (and this sufficiency is a law-like connection). I believe satisfaction of these two accounts provides more than adequate reason for holding that e has a physical cause, and will not go into further details of this issue.

Thus, we have established first that e could not have occurred without somenarrow-scope physical event at t (formally, e⊃∃x[Px & Tx & x⊃e]), and that that physical event qualifies as a cause of e. Since e and t are arbitrary, we can generalize this to establish the following:

Weak Causal Closure: If a physical event has a cause at time t, it has a physical cause at t.

From weak causal closure, we can get to strong causal closure by invoking two additional plausible premises: causal exclusion and no overdetermination.

P2) Causal exclusion: If an event e has a sufficient cause c at t, then no event at t distinct from c can be a cause of e (unless this is a case of overdetermination).

P3) No overdetermination: Mental causation does not (normally) involve overdetermination.

The argument for strong causal closure goes as follows. Take the same scenario as in argument 1. By causal exclusion and no overdetermination, it cannot be the case that both m and p are causes of e. Therefore, we must reject one of them as a cause of e. Suppose we reject p. Then m will be a sufficient cause of e, and p will not be a cause of e. But mind-body supervenience entails that m has a subvenient physical base at t. Therefore, there must be a physical event that occurs at time t that causes m. Further, this physical event qualifies as a cause of e because of our considerations in argument 1. Therefore, we cannot reject p, for we will find ourselves in an infinite regress. Instead, we must reject m. Since m, p, e, and t are arbitrary, we can again generalize to establish the following:

Strong Causal Closure: Any cause of a physical event is itself a physical event.

How do we get to total causal closure from here? I contend that establishing total causal closure is much more difficult than establishing strong causal closure. I see two possibilities for getting to total causal closure. One way is to establish total causal closure by arguing that the mental is not really ontologically distinct from the physical. If this can be shown, then mental properties are really physical properties, and mental events are really physical events. A fortiori, any cause or effect of a physical event is itself a physical event (provided our universe of discourse is limited to the physical and the mental domains). However, this strategy is problematic because it gets the order of explanation backwards. We want total causal closure to lend support for physicalism, not the other way around. Physicalism is the prize at the end of the road. If we already know that physicalism is true, then total causal closure is not a very interesting thesis. Further, physicalism is a stronger thesis than total causal closure, and so is likely to be more difficult to establish than total causal closure anyway.

The other way of getting to total causal closure is to invoke additional premises about the effects of physical events. P1-P3, as well as strong causal closure, concern only the causes of physical events. To establish total causal closure, we must establish converse theses concerning the effects of physical events. Let us use converse causal closure to mean the following thesis: Any effect of a physical event is itself a physical event. Converse causal closure plus strong causal closure would get us total causal closure. But this strategy runs into problems as well. First, there is a very tight relation between explanation and causation. It is difficult to find plausible premises concerning effects that are analogous to P1-P3. For example, consider a converse version of P2: If an event e is sufficient for an effect c at t, then no event at t distinct from c can be an effect of e. Certainly this is not nearly as plausible as P2—in fact, it seems flatly false. Second, it seems much easier to investigate or pinpoint the causes of events than the effects of events. This may in part explain why empirical work is taken to support weak or strong causal closure rather than converse causal closure. Third, philosophers are usually concerned with causal closure rather than converse causal closure. This may be in part because converse causal closure is much more difficult to establish. I contend, then, that there are no premises as plausible as P1-P3 that will allow us to establish total causal closure from strong causal closure.

Thus, I make my first claim—that we have very good reason to accept strong causal closure, but less reason to accept total causal closure. Total causal closure is much harder to establish than strong causal closure, because converse causal closure is much harder to establish than causal closure. P1-P3 will always be consistent with mental events that are caused by do not themselves have causal powers—an epiphenomenalist position. Establishing total causal closure requires us to invoke some less plausible, harder to establish premises.

II. TOTAL CAUSAL CLOSURE AND PHYSICALISM

I will now consider what implications total causal closure has for physicalism. To begin, I will present a scenario that will be useful in discussing the relationship between the two theses. Let w1 and w2 be two possible worlds. Suppose that 1) the same physical properties are instantiated in both worlds, such that w1 and w2 are physically indistinguishable, 2) w2 also contains some extra mental stuff, while 1 does not, and 3) total causal closure is true in both worlds. Further, suppose that we are either in w1 or w2, but we do not know which. However, we do know total causal closure is true (or we accept it anyway). Finally, suppose that our friend Fred the dualist is trying to convince us that we are in w2­, and hence that dualism is true. Like us, Fred accepts total causal closure. However, Fred is faced with a number of problems about dualism that are directly relate to total causal closure:[8]

First, it is difficult to see how we could gain positive knowledge about anything outside of the physical domain if the physical domain is causally isolated. Suppose that Fred is right and we are in w2. Since w1 and w2 are physically indistinguishable, there will be a twin of Fred in w1 that is making just the same arguments for dualism. But of course, Fred’s twin in w1 is wrong, because physicalism is true in w1. Thus, if Fred wants to contend that we can have knowledge that dualism is true, he must either give a non-causal account of knowledge that can be applied to his claims about dualism, or deny that we can know whether we are in w1 or w2. Further, if he chooses the former option, his account of knowledge must deny that knowledge supervenes on the physical.[9]

Second, it is difficult to see how Fred can even talk about things outside the physical domain if the physical domain is causally isolated. This problem is similar to the epistemic problem above, except that it is about semantics instead. Once again, Fred’s twin will be making just the same claims as Fred, and it seems as though they have the same meaning. Fred either has to give a non-causal account of meaning that can be applied to his claims about dualism, or deny that he is really talking about mental stuff. And again, if he chooses the former option, his account of meaning must deny that meaning supervenes on the physical.

Third, Fred faces two problems concerning causality. First, total causal closure entails that no non-physical events can causally influence the physical domain. Thus, Fred must give up on mental causation, and must hold that none of our mental events are causally responsible for our actions in the world. Second, if the mental supervenes on the physical, then this cannot be any kind of causal dependence relation, since the two domains are causally isolated. Can there be another kind of supervenience relation that can preserve both ontological distinctness and a determination relation between two properties?

Fourth, Fred cannot appeal to the main contemporary theories of dualism—epiphenomenalism and interactionism. I will use the following formulations of the two theories:[10]

Epiphenomenalism: Mental events are ontologically distinct from physical events, are caused by physical events, and do not themselves causally influence physical events. Interactionism: Mental events are ontologically distinct from physical events and can causally influence physical events.

Total causal closure precludes both of these theories. Epiphenomenalism is not an option because total causal does not allow mental events to be caused by the physical. Interactionism is not an option because total causal closure does not mental events to causally influence the physical. Thus, the most promising current theories of dualism are cut off.

All of these difficulties put Fred in a very difficult position. Not only does he face the problems mentioned above, but he also faces other problems facing dualism that are not directly related to causal closure. Further, since Fred cannot appeal to the main contemporary theories of dualism, any theory of his might lose some of the motivation for holding dualism in the first place. Total causal closure puts dualism in a very awkward position, and there seems no viable position that Fred can turn to. So then, I make my second claim: if total causal closure is true, then we have very good reason to accept physicalism.[11]

III. STRONG CAUSAL CLOSURE AND PHYSICALISM

I now turn to strong causal closure and physicalism. Once again, I will first present a scenario that will be useful in considering the relationship between the two theses. Consider now w3 and w4. These worlds are just like 1 and w2 respectively, except strong causal closure is true instead of total causal closure. Again, suppose we accept strong causal closure. This time, suppose our friend Rufus is trying to convince us that dualism is true. Like us, Rufus accepts strong causal closure. Next I will consider which of the problems that dualism faced under total causal closure apply also to strong causal closure.

Rufus also faces the epistemic and semantic problems that Fred faced. These issues hold just as well for strong causal closure as for total causal closure. This is because neither of these considerations mention anything about effects of physical events. Thus, strong causal closure, just like total causal closure, brings into question how we can have knowledge of the mental and how we can refer to the mental.

Rufus faces one of the problems concerning causality that Fred faced, but not the other. In particular, the problem concerning mental causation still holds, but the problem concerning the supervenience relation does not. This is because mental causation concerns the causes of physical events, while supervenience concerns the effects of physical events. Thus, under strong causal closure, mental events in w4 do not have causal efficacy over the physical. But it might be the case that the mental events supervene on the physical through some sort of causal relation.

Finally, Rufus cannot accept interactionism, but he can accept epiphenomenalism. Strong causal closure precludes one of the main theories of dualism, but still allows for the possibility of the other. In this regard, Rufus is in a much better position than Fred, for there seem to be no theories of dualism available for Fred that are even close to viable.

So Rufus, like Fred, must give a non-causal account of knowledge and a non-causal of account of meaning that can be applied to his claims about dualism, and deny that knowledge and meaning supervene on the physical. Further, both must deny that mental events can causally influence events in the physical world. Finally, both cannot accept that any form of interactionism is true.

However, unlike Fred, Rufus might accept that mental events are caused by physical events, and use this to help ground a kind of supervenience relation. And he can accept that epiphenomenalism is true. It seems, then, that the advantages that Rufus has over Fred are just those relating to epiphenomenalism. This is not surprising, since the difference between strong causal closure and total causal closure just concerns the effects of physical events.

I now make my third and final claim—that if strong causal closure is true and epiphenomenalism is false, then we have very good reasons to accept total causal closure. That is, if epiphenomenalism can be ruled out on independent grounds, then strong causal closure will be nearly as powerful as total causal closure.

IV. UPSHOT

I now wish to recap my arguments in a more precise form. My claims throughout the paper have been as follows.

1) We have very good reason to hold strong causal closure.

2) If total causal closure is true, then we have very good reason to accept physicalism.

3) If strong causal closure is true and epiphenomenalism is false, then we have very good reason to accept total causal closure.

In each premise, I use the phrase “very good reason,” but I have not yet explained what this amounts. First, this is weaker than sufficiency. For example, I do not take total causal closure to be sufficient for physicalism, at least not with the considerations I have made here. Even if total causal closure is true, it might still be the case that physicalism is false. However, I do hold that total causal closure provides us with strong evidence for accepting physicalism. If total causal closure is true, then physicalism looks very favorable, and the alternatives much less favorable. As is shown by the case of Fred, total causal closure places the dualist in quite a difficult position. Thus, “very good reason” is weaker than sufficiency, but it still should be taken to carry quite a bit of weight.

Second, I do not take “very good reason” to be a transitive relation. If “very good reason” were transitive, then strong causal closure and the falsity of epiphenomenalism would give us as much reason to accept physicalism as to accept total causal closure—which is clearly not the case. However, while “very good reason” is not formally transitive, it does retain some sort of transitivity. Strong causal closure and the falsity of epiphenomenalism may not give us as much reason to accept physicalism as to accept total causal closure, but it does give us some reason to accept total causal closure. In fact, I hold that it still gives us quite strong reasons to accept physicalism. We may also think of it like this. The logical gap between strong causal closure plus the falsity of epiphenomenalism and total causal closure is small, but still existent. Likewise, the logical gap between total causal closure and physicalism is small, but still existent. Thus, the logical gap between strong causal closure plus the falsity of epiphenomenalism and total causal closure is larger than the previous two logical gaps, but still small nonetheless.

With these considerations in mind, the proper conclusion to my argument is the following:

C) If epiphenomenalism is false, then we have (slightly less than) very good reason to accept physicalism.

I believe that epiphenomenalism cannot be ruled out from just the considerations I have advanced here. But if it can be ruled out on independent grounds, then we have a strong case for physicalism from just a few plausible premises.


REFERENCES

Kim, Jaegwon. Philosophy of Mind. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 2006. Print.

______. Physicalism, or Something near Enough. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 2005. Print.

Robinson, William. “Epiphenomenalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia

of Philosophy. 15 Jan. 2007. Web. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/epiphenomenalism/&gt;.

Stoljar, Daniel. Physicalism. London: Routledge, 2010.

______. “Physicalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).” Stanford Encyclopedia of

Philosophy. 9 Sept. 2009. Web. <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/&gt;.


[1] I will not give a precise formulation of physicalism in this paper. Not only is it very difficult to provide necessary and sufficient conditions, but there is also the issue of what counts as physical and what counts as mental. Hence, I will settle with what I believe is a necessary (but perhaps not sufficient) condition for physicalism. The following is a strong supervenience formulation of physicalism: PHYS) For every property F and every object x in the actual world, if x instantiates F at time t, there is some physical property G such that x instantiates G at t, and for every possible world w, G necessitates F (such that whenever an object instantiates G, it instantiates F). This necessary condition suffices for the purposes of this paper. 

[2] I will use the following three formulations of causal closure: 1. Weak Causal Closure: If a physical event has a cause at time t, then it has a physical cause at time t. 2. Strong Causal Closure: Any cause of a physical event is itself a physical event. 3. Total Causal Closure: Any cause or effect of a physical event is itself a physical event.

[3] Throughout this paper, I will take the universe of discourse to be limited to the mental and the physical domains.

[4] This argument originally comes from unpublished notes by Jaegwon Kim, though I have made several of my own contributions to the argument. Most notably, I examined the issues of scope and quantification much more closely.

[5] I take an event here to be an instantiation of a property by an object at a time.

[6] I take a Lewisian account of causation (counterfactual dependency) to be a sufficient condition for causation in this paper—for any two events x and y, x causes y if y would not have occurred in the absence of x. However, this argument for weak causal closure also works using a nomological sufficiency account of causation—roughly, x causes y if there is  law-like relation between x events and y events. I discuss this in more detail later on.

[7] It should noted here that though e could not have occurred without somenarrow-scope physical event at t, it could have occurred without any particular physical event at t. Because of this, it may objected that my argument relies on playing loose with quantification. I think that this objection can be answered, and that we do have very good reason for holding that the physical event qualifies as a cause under the the counterfactual dependency account. However, I will not discuss the details here because they are relatively tangential to the concerns of this paper.

[8] A few disclaimers: 1. The scenario does not presuppose dualism. The possibility of w1 and w2 are consistent with physicalism. 2. The scenarios does not entail that w1 is a zombie world. If physicalism is true, then there is still phenomenal consciousness in w1, even though there is only physical stuff. In such a case, w2 will have some extra mental stuff over and above whatever mental stuff is instantiated by the physical. 3. I only include some considerations here that are especially pertinent to causal closure. However, there are other important considerations to make in the debate between physicalism and dualism that I have omitted here.

[9] Fred might say that knowledge of the mental is possible because beliefs are purely mental, and total causal closure allows for mental-to-mental causation. This does provide some account of how we can have knowledge of the non-physical. A similar account might be provided for the semantic considerations in the following paragraph, and these considerations also can be made for strong causal closure. However, this account of knowledge still leaves open how our mental states are connected to our physical states in the physical world, and allows for a multitude of problems that arise from this. In any case, I will not address this avenue of thought here.

[10] There may be other formulations of these theses that do not invoke causation. If so, then my considerations do not apply to those formulations.

[11] A side consideration: w1 and w2 seem to show that no amount of empirical work is sufficient to fully establish physicalism. Physicalism is false in w2. But no amount of empirical investigation by people in w2 will allow them to infer this. The physical domain is totally causally closed, so any empirical work must be wholly within the physical domain. Consequently, empirical work will not allow the people in w­2 to determine whether they really are in w­2, or whether they are instead in w1, and vice versa.

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3 responses to “Paper Submission I: Andrew Lee

  1. Galen Mitchell March 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Alright, so now that I’ve spent some time looking at the paper, here are my comments:

    Stylistic Complaints:

    You’re exceedingly regimented here, and it seems (at least to me) to get in the way of your being understood clearly. Obviously there is a tradition in some sorts of philosophy wherein this sort of regimented language is expected—logic for example—however it seems to get in the way in this essay considering the fact that what you’re talking about is actually quite straightforward and simple. Formal arguments are nice, but I would have included those in the footnotes/endnotes and kept the text itself easily accessible. In many cases, all this would have meant is changing your variables into the words they stood for. Variables are meant to help expose the logic behind complex ideas, but given the fact that these ideas are fairly straightforward, they seem unnecessary here. The overall result is an essay that feels tied down with language, and which could feel really breezy (something I like in an essay) without it.

    Argumentation Complaints:

    I don’t disagree with your conclusions given the way you framed everything. You did a nice job arguing for your conclusions etc. You could have fleshed some bits out a bit more, but as it is the arguments followed fairly smooth. However, I strongly disagree with the premise of the paper: that physicalism somehow needs support. I think my disagrement is fairly common, and this is why we do not often see papers like this. Physicalism has ample support and evidence available, whereas dualism has strikingly little, and what evidence dualism does have is often quite suspect. Had you framed this paper more as the “physicalism is established by x,y, and z, but even if it wasn’t we could do it by…” I think you’d likely endear yourself to more readers, and be able to show off your understanding of the foundations of physicalism.

    So ya, those are my main complaints/suggestions. I think the paper is quite good. And, as I believe you told me via email you are still an undergraduate, I think I can say it is one of the better undergraduate philosophy papers I’ve read.

    I’m curious what others think of the paper though, so for all those out there who’ve read it, now’s the time to comment.

    • Andrew Lee March 19, 2011 at 5:06 pm

      Thanks for the comments, Galen. Here are my rejoinders:

      Your stylistic comments are well taken. I think you’re right that I could smooth out some of the parts to make it more reader-friendly. However, I’m not so sure that replacing the more formal arguments with a looser style would improve clarity. The reason the variables are there are to simplify the language- if I were to replace every occurrence of “e” with “that original event” or something to that effect, the language would quickly become cluttered up and confusing. In addition, some of the arguments and conclusions are not so obvious- the first argument from P1 to weak causal closure can be quite surprising both in its conclusion and the complexity of issues that surround the argument. For example, the conclusion that “1) e could not have occurred without some physical event at t (with some taking narrow scope), and 2) that physical event is sufficient for e” requires quite a bit of subtle exposition, and I wanted to make sure that it’s clear. It’s difficult to explicate something like that clearly and unambiguously if one is using a looser style. I certainly don’t think that these arguments are simple or straightforward- argument 1 is something that escaped Jaegwon Kim for years even though it’s at the core of his work, and even he didn’t consider the necessity/sufficiency issues that I discuss here.

      Now, your argumentation complaints puzzle me a little. I’m not sure what you mean in attributing to me the premise that “physicalism somehow needs support.” First, I never had this premise in my paper- the paper is a look at the relationship between physicalism and causal closure. But more importantly, I don’t know what that premise amounts to. You surely can’t mean that physicalism is securely and incontestably established in philosophy, because that’s certainly not true. According to the recent PhilPapers survey, about 56% of philosophers are physicalists, while 27% are non-physicalists (the rest gave miscellaneous answers). That’s a substantial amount of dualism, even if it’s in the minority. Even if physicalism is the current mainstream view, that doesn’t mean that dualism can be placed in the same place in the history of philosophy as, say, behaviorism. But then doesn’t this mean that it’s a non-trivial goal to provide physicalism with additional support? Take a look at some of the other hotly contested topics in contemporary philosophy- say, moral realism and anti-realism. I doubt many would contest that moral realism is securely established, and that we can just forget about moral anti-realists. But as far as agreement upon the issues stand, the issue of moral realism is in the same spot as the issue of physicalism (56% moral realists, 28% anti-realists).

      So here are my disagreements with you:
      1) I think physicalism can be given additional support, and that this isn’t a useless task like trying to give support for anti-behaviorism.
      2) We do often see papers that argue for physicalism. For example, take a look at Brian McLaughlin and Jonathan Cohen’s relatively recent (2007) book on contemporary issues in philosophy of mind. Among many of the other hotly debated contemporary issues in the book, one concerns the physicalism/dualism debeate “Is Consciousness Ontologically Emergent from the Physical?”
      3) If physicalism is already established, then what of those 27% of philosophers who do not accept physicalism?
      4) While giving support for physicalism is a goal for me, the main point of the paper is, as I said in the beginning, to examine the relationship between causal closure and physicalism. This primary point is what the main claims of my paper pertain to. And at the end, I argue for the non-obvious conclusion that refuting epiphenomenalism provides very strong support for physicalism. If this is right, of course it has quite a few philosophical consequences. But even if physicalism were already securely established, this would not be a trivial conclusion- it would still illustrate the relationship between causal closure and physicalism, just as the paper aims to do.

      Thanks a lot for the comments though, and I really appreciate you taking the time to read the paper.

      • Galen Mitchell March 20, 2011 at 11:38 am

        Andrew, I’m glad you had the time to respond to my comments.

        I should clarify: by “straightforward and simple” I did not mean “obvious.” So I don’t want you to think that I think the conclusions you draw are in some way trivial. Despite this, I do still think that at least one “verbose” run through of the arguments you formalized, with a footnote containing the formal versions, would be quite sufficient. The problem to me is that in understanding what you were getting at (where you were going) with those arguments, I had to make them verbose—it was not obviously from the formal representations themselves. However, perhaps we just disagree here. I will admit to being a fan of more conversational writing.

        As for support for physicalism: My issue was more with the way the support was presented—without any reference to the strong support physicalism already has—than with the fact support was given. I’m fine with people providing extra support for physicalism, I just think it doesn’t do physicalism justice to present the issue so out of context here. Additionally, I personally find the “physicalism vs dualism” issue to be plainly obvious. Never once have I read an argument for dualism I have found remotely compelling—they all require far too much bending (either of logic, causal relations—as discussed here—or of phenomenal experience) to get what they want. In this sense, I couldn’t care less what percentage of philosophers are still dualists. I am completely fine with the idea that there are tons of smart people out there who believe stupid things. It happens all the time. Once again, perhaps we just disagree.

        However, that brings me to another point: you say your goal was to examine causal closure and not to provide support for physicalism. In that case, you may want to go back and make it more clear why you think that is necessary. A little bit of context can go a long way to making the paper feel more driven. I may have picked up on the physicalism end because it was one of the few reasons someone like myself (who has not spent time on causal closure) could pick out for writing the paper.

        Anyway, I’m glad my comments were at least of some discussion-related use. I just wish we had a few more people commenting (my site stats indicate they are reading, just not posting).

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