Kim’s New Reductionism

By Neil Campbell.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Jaegwon Kim has argued that nonreductive physicalism should be abandoned in favour of reductionism. The main reason for this is that Kim thinks nonreductive physicalism is incapable of providing a robust account of mental causation. Indeed, Kim himself has marshaled several influential arguments to show that nonreductive physicalism leads to the causal inefficacy of mental properties. The only way to avoid this result, according to Kim, is to reduce mental properties to physical properties. However, I argue that there are grounds to suspect that Kim’s own brand of functional reduction either eliminates the mental--in which case it does not provide an account of mental causation at all (robust or otherwise)--or it is equivalent to one of the versions of nonreductive physicalism Kim has rejected, in which case his criticisms of nonreductive physicalism might be misguided. Either way, there is little to recommend his version of functionalism as a reductive theory.

Keywords: Mental Causation, Reductionism, Epiphenomenalism, Functionalism, Properties

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp.305-314. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 607.890KB).

Dr. Neil Campbell

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

My work deals with two central issues in the philosophy of mind. The first explores the problem of consciousness. We are conscious beings, yet we lack an adequate account of how the brain generates consciousness and it seems impossible to explain the subjective character of experience in physical terms. I am particularly interested in what these obstacles to understanding consciousness physically entail about the limits of physicalism—the view that human beings are entirely physical creatures. The second issue is the problem of mental causation. This concerns questions about how thoughts and desires in the mind can result in physical actions involving the body. I am currently working on a book in which I argue that nonreductive versions of physicalism offer a viable account of mental causation without lapsing into a pernicious form of epiphenomenalism. A central part of this project involves distinguishing reason-giving as a distinct species of explanation from causal explanation.

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