Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Nitpicking about the causal exclusion argument

Exclusion arguments against dualism, and sometimes against nonreductive physicalism, go something like this.

  1. Every physical effect has a sufficient microphysical cause.

  2. Some microphysical effects have non-overdetermined mental causes.

  3. If an event E has two distinct causes A and B, with A sufficient, it is overdetermined.

  4. So, some mental causes are identical to microphysical causes.

But (3) is just false as it stands. It neglects such cases of non-overdetermining distinct causes A and B as:

  1. A is a sufficient cause of E and B is a proper part of A, or vice versa. (Example: E=window breaking; A=rock hitting window; B=front three quarters of rock hitting window.)

  2. A is a sufficient cause of B and B is a sufficient cause of E, or vice versa, with these instances of sufficient causation being transitive. (Example: E=window breaking; A=Jones throwing rock at window; B=rock impacting window.)

  3. B is an insufficient cause of A and A is a sufficient cause of B, with these instances of causation being transitive. (Example: E=window breaking; B=Jones throwing rock in general direction of window; A=rock impacting window.)

  4. A and B are distinct fine-grained events which correspond to one coarse-grained event.

To take care of (6) and (7), we could replace “cause” with “immediate cause” in the argument. This would require the rejection of causation by a dense sequence of causes (e.g., the state of a Newtonian system at 3 pm is caused by its state at 2:30 pm, its state at 2:45 pm, at 2:52.5 pm, and so on, with no “immediate” cause). I defend such a rejection in my infinity book. But the price of taking on board the arguments in my infinity book is that one then has very good reason to accept the Kalaam argument, and hence to deny (1) (since the first physical state will then have a divine, and hence non-microphysical, cause).

We could take care of (5) and (8) by replacing “distinct” with “non-overlapping” in (3). But then the conclusion of the argument becomes much weaker, namely that some mental causes overlap microphysical causes. And that’s something that both the nonreductive physicalist and hylomorphic dualist can accept for different reasons: the nonreductive physicalist may hold that mental causes totally overlap with microphysical causes; the hylomorphist will say that the form is a part of both the mental cause and of the microphysical cause. Maybe we still have an argument against substance dualism, though.

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