© 2010, Joanna Klimaski


[From the introduction]

Contemporary trends in philosophy of mind have galvanized non-reductive physicalism, the thesis that (1) the world and its components are essentially physical, and (2) entities cannot be reduced to their fundamental physical parts. Reality is comprised of layers, each one metaphysically affixed to its neighbors while still retaining its own unique ontological status. Higher-level phenomena are thought to be dependent on, but not reducible to, lower-level occurrences. A levels-ontology ostensibly solves the problems bequeathed by a Cartesian worldview as well as those that come with strict physicalism. But ultimately we face the same questions that plague these views. How can disparate substances interact? How does the physical cause the mental, and vice versa? Moreover, can purportedly higher-level phenomena, such as beliefs, cause lower-level phenomena, such as neural reactions, as well as other higher-level phenomena, for instance other beliefs? Non-reductive physicalism precludes any causal junction between these realms whereby they produce effects in one other. “Non-reductive physicalism,” Jaegwon Kim says, “like Cartesianism, founders on the rocks of mental causation.”

John Heil addresses these questions in From an Ontological Point of View. It is evident in this text that an adequate theory of causality, particularly of mental causation, must stem from an adequate theory of properties, something current non-reductionist theories overlook. In proposing a revisionary ontology of properties, Heil offers a promising account of causality and also avoids the problem of causal overdetermination, the premise that an event cannot have more than one sufficient cause.

In this paper I draw on emergentism, a prevalent non-reductionist theory, in order to present the problem of causal overdetermination in philosophy of mind. I attempt to show that Heil’s theory illuminates the issue of causal overdetermination by virtue of its ontological seriousness. By applying Heil’s insights about the nature of properties, it becomes manifest that the requirement of a one-to-one relation between cause and effect is unwarranted. Therefore, causal overdetermination is fangless. [...]

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