Physicalism, or Something Near Enough

Physicalism, or Something Near Enough

Jaegwon Kim
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Physicalism, or Something Near Enough
    Book Description:

    Contemporary discussions in philosophy of mind have largely been shaped by physicalism, the doctrine that all phenomena are ultimately physical. Here, Jaegwon Kim presents the most comprehensive and systematic presentation yet of his influential ideas on the mind-body problem. He seeks to determine, after half a century of debate: What kind of (or "how much") physicalism can we lay claim to? He begins by laying out mental causation and consciousness as the two principal challenges to contemporary physicalism. How can minds exercise their causal powers in a physical world? Is a physicalist account of consciousness possible?

    The book's starting point is the "supervenience" argument (sometimes called the "exclusion" argument), which Kim reformulates in an extended defense. This argument shows that the contemporary physicalist faces a stark choice between reductionism (the idea that mental phenomena are physically reducible) and epiphenomenalism (the view that mental phenomena are causally impotent). Along the way, Kim presents a novel argument showing that Cartesian substance dualism offers no help with mental causation.

    Mind-body reduction, therefore, is required to save mental causation. But are minds physically reducible? Kim argues that all but one type of mental phenomena are reducible, including intentional mental phenomena, such as beliefs and desires. The apparent exceptions are the intrinsic, felt qualities of conscious experiences ("qualia"). Kim argues, however, that certain relational properties of qualia, in particular their similarities and differences, are behaviorally manifest and hence in principle reducible, and that it is these relational properties of qualia that are central to their cognitive roles. The causal efficacy of qualia, therefore, is not entirely lost.

    According to Kim, then, while physicalism is not the whole truth, it is the truth near enough.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4084-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-X)
  3. Preface
    (pp. XI-XIV)
  4. Synopsis of the Arguments
    (pp. 1-6)

    A strong physicalist outlook has shaped contemporary discussions of the mind-body problem. The aim of this book is to assess, after half a century of debate, just what kind of physicalism, or “how much” physicalism, we can lay claim to. My conclusion is that although we cannot have physicalismtout court, we can have something nearly as good.

    Chapter 1 introduces the two principal challenges confronting contemporary physicalism. They are mental causation and consciousness. The problem of mental causation is to explain how mentality can have a causal role in a world that is fundamentally physical. The supervenience/exclusion argument shows...

  5. 1 Mental Causation and Consciousness: OUR TWO MIND-BODY PROBLEMS
    (pp. 7-31)

    Schopenhauer famously called the mind-body problem a “Weltknoten,” or “world-knot,” and he was surely right. The problem, however, is not really a single problem; it is a cluster of connected problems about the relationship between mind and matter. What these problems are depends on a broader framework of philosophical and scientific assumptions and presumptions within which the questions are posed and possible answers formulated. For the contemporary physicalist, there are two problems that truly make the mind-body problem aWeltknoten, an intractable and perhaps ultimately insoluble puzzle. They concern mental causation and consciousness. The problem of mental causation is to...

  6. 2 The Supervenience Argument Motivated, Clarified, and Defended
    (pp. 32-69)

    An argument was presented in the preceding chapter to show that, on an influential position on the mind-body problem, mental properties turn out to be without causal efficacy. This is what I have called the supervenience argument, also called the exclusion argument in the literature. The argument has drawn comments, criticisms, and objections from a wide range of philosophers, but mostly from those who want to defend orthodox nonreductive physicalism and other forms of mind-body property dualism. Critics of the argument have raised some significant issues, both about the specifics of the argument and, more interestingly, about the broader philosophical...

  7. 3 The Rejection of Immaterial Minds: A CAUSAL ARGUMENT
    (pp. 70-92)

    The deep difficulties that beset contemporary nonreductive physicalism might prompt some of us to explore nonphysicalist alternatives; in fact, the nonreductivist’s predicament seems to have injected new vigor into the dualist projects of philosophers with antecedent antiphysicalist sympathies.¹ For the upshot of our considerations on mental causation was that, for the physicalist, there are only two options left: reductionism and epiphenomenalism. With good reason, most philosophers have found neither choice palatable. On one hand, epiphenomenalism strikes most of us as obviously wrong, if not incoherent; the idea that our thoughts, wants, and intentions might lack causal efficacy of any kind...

  8. 4 Reduction, Reductive Explanation, and Closing the “Gap”
    (pp. 93-120)

    It is not a matter of dispute that mental phenomena are intimately correlated with physical events, and, so far as we know, neural events in the brain are the physical correlates of mental events. Often one speaks of the neural “substrates” of mental states, suggesting that there is here a dependency relationship between the mental and the neural that goes beyond mere correlation. Mind-body supervenience as it is standardly understood captures this idea: mental phenomena not only correlate with neural processes but their existence and occurrence are contingent on the presence of appropriate processes in the brain. Some prefer to...

  9. 5 Explanatory Arguments for Type Physicalism and Why They Don’t Work
    (pp. 121-148)

    One notable development in the debates over the mind-body problem during the last dozen or so years so is the revival of type physicalism, the view that mental properties and kinds are identical with physical properties and kinds. This was the original form of the mind-body identity theory advanced by Herbert Feigl and J.J.C. Smart in the late 1950s, a position that began losing favor with philosophers by the late 1960s and was abandoned by a large majority of philosophers by the mid-1970s. Much of the current push toward, or back to, type physicalism appears to be a reaction to...

  10. 6 Physicalism, or Something Near Enough
    (pp. 149-174)

    As reflective and self-aware creatures, we want to know what kind of being we are, what our nature is. We also want to know how we fit into the world we live in, what our place is in this world. But what kind of place is this world, to begin with? For detailed knowledge of the world, we must defer to the deliverances of the sciences. Only science can tell us about the origin of life on earth, the causes and cures of cancer, the depletion of the ozone layer, and the like. On the overall shape and makeup of...

  11. References
    (pp. 175-180)
  12. Index
    (pp. 181-186)