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Philosophy of Mind


Module Code: PI8010

  • ECTS Weighting: 10
  • Lecturer: Prof. Ben White
  • Contact Hours: 22

Mental Causation
Module Outline
We typically assume that our minds have a causal impact on the world by affecting the motion of our bodies and thence the states of other physical objects in our environment. When a person gets up from the couch to rummage about in the fridge, it is, we say, their desire for food and belief that there is desirable food in the fridge (which are states of their mind) that cause them to stand up, walk to the kitchen, and open the fridge. Similarly, when someone stubs their toe, it is, we say, the resulting sensation of pain (another mental state) that causes them to wince and say “Ow!” One of the most long-standing objections to mind-body dualism is that the dualist’s thesis that mind and body are distinct and irreducible to one another makes it difficult, if not impossible, to explain how the mind could cause such effects. This module will examine and evaluate various responses to this objection in the interest of arriving at a better understanding of how the mind interacts with the physical world. In pursuit of this goal, we will consider a number of dualist and materialist theories of mental causation, different varieties of dualism and how they are variously affected by the aforementioned objection, the plausibility of the epiphenomenalist view that the mind is causally inert, and various rival theories of causation in general.
Learning Outcomes:
At the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Describe how the problem of mental causation has influenced philosophical theorizing about the nature of the mind.
  • Describe and evaluate rival theories of mental causation.
  • Describe and evaluate rival theories of causation in general.
  • Critically examine rival theories of mind on the basis of the solutions they offer to the problem of mental causation.
  • Articulate and defend their own view of how mind and body causally interact (or at least why they seem to).

PhD students will be required to write one substantial essay (3,000-4,000 words). Students should confirm the essay title with their lecturer.