This paper is an opinionated overview of major developments in philosophy of mind during the past seventy years, with emphasis on the issue of mental causation. Its most prominent positions all embrace a broadly “naturalistic” or “materialistic” conception of human beings, and of mentality and its place in nature. Included in this paper are discussions of analytical behaviorism, the psychophysical identity theory, functionalism, multiple realizability and strong multiple realizability, supervenience, the causal exclusion problem, phenomenal mental states, wide content, contextualist causal compatibilism, agentive phenomenology, and the agent-exclusion problem.
This is a dialogue between a philosopher and a scientist about the scientific explanation of consciousness. What is consciousness? Does it admit of scientific explanation? If so, what must a scientific theory of consciousness be like in order to provide us with a satisfying explanation of its explanandum? And what types of entities might such a theory acknowledge as being conscious? Philosopher Owen Flanagan and scientist Giulio Tononi weigh in on these issues during an exchange about the nature and scientific explanation of consciousness.
This paper is a dialogue between Thalia Wheatley and Terence Horgan. Horgan maintains that philosophy is a broadly empirical discipline, and that philosophical theorizing about how concepts work treats certain intuitions about proper concept-usage as empirical data. He holds that the possibility of strong multiple realizability undermines the psychophysical identity theory. He holds that the concept of causation is governed by implicit contextual parameters, and that this dissolves Kim’s problem of “causal exclusion.” He holds that the concept of free will is governed by implicit contextual parameters, and that free-will attributions are often true, in typical contexts, even if determinism is true. Thalia Wheatley holds that the concept of multiple realizability hinges on the level of abstraction discussed and that neuroscientific data does not yet support multiple realizability of mental states from specific, high resolution brain states. She also holds that compatibilism redefines the concept of free will in ways that bear little resemblance to the common understanding―that of being free to choose otherwise in the moment. She maintains that this folk understanding is incompatible with the brain as a physical system and is not rescued by concepts of context and capacity.
In this dialogue Derk Pereboom and Marcel Brass discuss the free will problem from the perspective of philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. First, they give their opinion on how the two disciplines contribute to the free will problem. While Pereboom is optimistic regarding the contribution of science, Brass is more pessimistic and questions the usefulness of an empirical approach to the question whether free will exists or not. Then they outline their position on the free will problem. The idea of a transcendental agent is discussed in more detail. Furthermore, it is discussed whether free will scepticism is a politically, socially, psychologically viable position. Pereboom argues that promoting the idea of free will scepticism can have a positive impact on retributive emotions and the political practice regarding retributive punishment. Brass argues that retributive emotions are deeply rooted in evolution and therefore difficult to change via high-level beliefs about free will. Finally, the future of the free will debate is discussed. Both agree that the dialogue between philosophy and psychology should be intensified. Philosophy can benefit from taking empirical research more seriously. Psychology and neuroscience can benefit from philosophy by appreciating the sophistication and conceptual clarity of the philosophical debate. Both have to find a common language and define common problems that can be tackled from both perspectives.
This commentary discusses how philosophy and science can collaborate to understand the human mind, considering dialogues involving three philosophers and three cognitive scientists. Their topics include the relation of philosophy and science, the nature of mind, the problem of consciousness, and the existence of free will. I argue that philosophy is more general and normative than science, but they are interdependent. Philosophy can build on the cognitive sciences to develop a theory of mind I call “multilevel materialism,” which integrates molecular, neural, mental, and social mechanisms. Consciousness is increasingly being understood as resulting from neural mechanisms. Scientific advances make the traditional concept of free will implausible, but “freeish” will is consistent with new theories of decision making and action resulting from brain processes. Philosophers should work closely with scientists to address profound problems about knowledge, reality, and values.
In his review of the trio of philosopher-scientist dialogues on the nature and capacities of the human mind, Paul Thagard (2018) advocates clearly and forcefully for a fairly extreme position, which he advances as preferable to an equally extreme alternative. I will suggest a middle path that becomes attractive when one attends not just to the range of data now pouring forth from the sciences of mind but also to our own experience as minded individuals.
The causal exclusion problem is often considered as one of the major difficulties for which non-reductive physicalists have no easy solution to offer. Some non-reductive physicalists address this problem by arguing that mental properties are to some extent causally autonomous. If this is the case, then mental properties will not be causally excluded by their physical realizers because causation, in general, is a relation between properties of the same level. In this paper, I argue that the response from causal autonomy cannot be successful for two reasons. First, it does not offer a satisfactory explanation for how mental particulars can have causal efficacy in a non-reductive physicalist framework. Second, the causal considerations underpinning this response do not really support the conclusion that mental properties are causally autonomous.
In section 1, I will describe how moral responsibility requires normative competence. In section 2, I will introduce an influential social psychology experiment and consider one of its philosophical interpretations, situationism. In section 3, I will discuss the possession response in defense of normative competence. This is an approach to save normative competence via possession, and in turn the concept of the morally responsible agent, by relinquishing the need for exercising normative competence. After discussing its pros and cons, section 4 will focus on the exercise response, which emphasizes each singular exercise of normative competence. Given these two responses, I will argue that we are faced with a dilemma. If we admit that the concept of the morally responsible agent is grounded in the mere possession of normative competence, then the concept becomes useless in a practical sense, forcing us to embrace a concept that is tied to the exercise of normative competence. If we admit that the morally responsible agent is grounded in only the exercise of normative competence, the concept of the morally responsible agent no longer aligns with common sense.
Since reform and opening-up began in 1978, Chinese Marxist philosophy has undertaken the double mission of enhancing the emancipation of the mind in society and of realizing its own ideological emancipation. It has gone through an evolutionary process from “extensive discussion about the criterion of truth” to “reform of philosophical textbooks”; from the proposal of the philosophical conception of “practical materialism” to reflection on “modernity”; and from the carrying-out of dialogues among Chinese, Western, and Marxist philosophies to the exploration of “new forms of civilization.” Chinese Marxist philosophy has shifted its way of doing research with practical materialism as a core conception, and it changed such modes of thinking as the intuitive theory of reflection based on na?ve realism, the theory of linear causality based on mechanical determinism, and the reductionism of essence based on abstract substantialism. As a result, it has boosted changes that were already underway in Chinese philosophy, worldviews, theories of truth, conceptions of history, and views of development, and it has further endowed the discourse system of Marxist philosophy with laudable subjectivity and originality.
In modern Western liberal discourse, human dignity has been cast as an important component of basic human rights, while so-called human rights have been generally understood as certain inborn, inherent and inalienable properties of every human being. In this understanding, human dignity is just a natural endowment rather than a historically constructed social-cultural phenomenon. Based on this premise, liberalism is justified for the reason that under a social condition of complete freedom, individuals will spontaneously exercise their rights thus to secure their dignity. However, from a Confucian point of view, human dignity is socially defined and exists in concrete forms in social-cultural contexts. Dignity is not an abstract, universal, minimal standard that can be applied to all people at every time; it refers to individuals’ decency and grace under various given social contexts, and it corresponds to particular roles, statuses and even ages and genders of individuals in their respective societies. The full realization of human dignity relies on certain social-cultural or institutional arrangements. Confucian li is precisely this kind of arrangement, which designs a whole set of regulations and norms in order to maintain human dignity in general, as well as to maintain different people’s dignity in varying situations. Therefore, according to Confucianism, behaving appropriately according to the norms and regulations of li is just a way to preserve dignity.