Functionalism, interventionism, and higher-order causation

Synthese 203 (3):1-22 (2024)
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It has been argued that nonreductive physicalism’s problems with mental causation disappear if we abandon the intuitive but naïve production-based conception of causation in favor of one based on counterfactual dependence and difference-making. In recent years, this response has been thoroughly developed and defended by James Woodward, who contends that Kim’s causal exclusion argument, widely thought to be the most serious threat to nonreductive mental causation, cannot even be given a coherent formulation within Woodward’s preferred interventionist framework. But Woodward has, even more recently, defended a pair of necessary conditions on mental causation and higher-order causation more generally, and it is here that the interventionist framework proves less friendly to nonreductive mental causation. Functionalism is arguably the most important species of nonreductive physicalism concerning specifically mental properties, but, as I argue, functional properties fail both of Woodward’s tests of causal relevance, one of them in two different ways. The problem, moreover, seems unique to functionalism, for other types of higher-order properties appear to pass Woodward’s tests. If functionalism faces defeat even in such friendly territory, its problems with mental causation are not an artifact of naïve metaphysics. They run deep.



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Matthew Rellihan
Seattle University

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