Skip to main content Accessibility help

Causation in the Argument for Anomalous Monism

  • Steven Yalowitz (a1)
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Causation in the Argument for Anomalous Monism
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Causation in the Argument for Anomalous Monism
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Causation in the Argument for Anomalous Monism
      Available formats


  • An abstract is not available for this content so a preview has been provided below. To view the full text please use the links above to select your preferred format.



Hide All

1 Reprinted in Davidson, DonaldEssays on Actions and Events (New York: Clarendon Press 1980) 207–25 (hereafter, ‘ME’).

2 In particular, it rules out Kim's, Jaegwon elegant reconstruction of Davidson's argument in ‘Psychophysical Laws,’ in LePore, E. and McLaughlin, B. eds., Actions and Events: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson (New York: Blackwell 1985) 369–86. Kim has Davidson's argument relying upon an assumption of the causal closure of the physical domain (381, 383-4). Such an assumption would take much of the interest out of Davidson's argument for monism. For extended discussion, see §VI below, as well as my ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism,’ Philosophical Studies 83, 3 (1997) 235-58. I now think that my rendering of Kim's reconstruction of the argument for mental anomalism in §II of that paper does not adequately highlight the role that this assumption is supposed to play, though this does not affect the criticisms I make of the reconstruction. See also note 68 below.

3 Kim, ‘Psychophysical Laws’

4 Child, WilliamAnomalism, Uncodifiability, and Psychophysical Relations,’ The Philosophical Review 102, 2 (1993) 215–45; McDowell, JohnVirtue and Reason,’ The Monist 62 (1979) 331–50; ‘Functionalism and Anomalous Monism,’ in Actions and Events: Essays on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson 387-98.

5 See ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism.’ For further discussion of the relation between rationality and mental anomalism, see §§II, V, and VI of the present paper as well as notes 62, 63, and 66 and surrounding text below.

6 The PNCC has been attacked by a number of people, including McDowell, ‘Functionalism and Anomalous Monism,’ 398, and Hornsby, JenniferAgency and Causal Explanation,’ in Heiland, J.Mele, A. eds., Mental Causation (New York: Clarendon Press 1993) 161–88, at 186-8. The PCI has been attacked most prominently by Kim; for a survey of the relevant issues, see his ‘The Myth of Nonreductive Materialism,’ Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 63 (1989) 31-47. For skepticism about the causal nature of reasons, see notes 7 and 30 below, as well as Kim's paper.

7 For instance, epiphenomenalist criticisms of anomalous monism (see note 6 above) take on a different look in the light of the premise that reasons are (essentially) causes. If something cannot even be recognized as a reason unless it is a cause, and (as argued in this paper) causes are anomie, then the charge that anomie mental properties are causally impotent needs reformulation. I am sympathetic with Hornsby's remark that ‘reason explanation is causal in a sense that rules out this idea of causality and explanatoriness coming apart’ (‘Agency and Causal Explanation,’ 165). See also note 30 below.

8 But if the strategy of this paper is right, then any strict psychophysical laws of succession will be ruled out, not just those with mental explananda. This includes laws such as ‘(P1 & M1) → P2’ and ‘(M1 & M2) → P1.’ See discussion at the end of §IV and note 68 below. (Note that this grounds Davidson's skepticism about the possibility of ruling out deviant causal chains in the analysis of intentional action (‘Freedom to Act,’ reprinted in Essays on Actions and Events 63-81, at 79). To hold that intentional actions are appropriate behaviors caused in the right way by primary reasons amounts to holding that, ceteris paribus, intentional actions are appropriate behaviors caused by primary reasons. Mental anomalism holds that neither ‘in the right way’ nor ‘ceteris paribus’ can be explicated so as to produce exceptionless generalizations. Bishop, John fails to notice this in the course of his extended discussion of deviant causal chains (Natural Agency [New York: Cambridge University Press 1989] 125–75; see 164).

9 ME, 207. In that passage, Davidson does not commit himself to the claim that human freedom would be contradicted by the existence of such laws. But he ends the paper with the remark that ‘The anomalism of the mental is thus a necessary condition for viewing action as autonomous’ (225). The impossibility of strict psychophysical and psychological laws of succession is thus held to be necessary (though clearly not sufficient) for freedom.

10 Kim, ‘Psychophysical Laws,’ 381; Child, 219

11 Here I am apparently in disagreement with Latham, Noa in his excellent article ‘Singular Causal Statements and Strict Deterministic Laws,’ Pacific ·Philosophical Quarterly 68, 1 (1987) 29–43. Latham claims, without argument, that the PNCC requires that the fundamental physical laws be deterministic (41).

12 Mackie, JohnThe Cement of the Universe (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1974), 62. For why this is only a first approximation, see §ill, where INUS conditions are distinguished from ‘CP’ — ceteris paribus — conditions.

13 For the first and third, see Schiffer, StephenCeteris Paribus Laws,’ Mind 100 (1991) 117, esp. 3-5. Schiffer's considerations against the second model turn on issues surrounding the question of multiple realization and supervenience, discussion of which would take us too far afield here. In light of the centrality of the second model to the discussion in this section, it should be noted that an appeal to multiple realizability is not available to Davidson in laying out the framework of the argument for mental anomalism. This is because it assumes something (realization) too similar to the token-identity thesis that he eventually wants to argue for on the basis of mental anomalism.

14 Fodor, JerryMaking Mind Matter More,’ Philosophical Topics 17, 1 (1989) 5979, at 78, n.10. As will become apparent, I agree with Fodor's basic claim here that it is all special-science generalizations that are in principle ceteris paribus, and that there is therefore nothing unique about psychology in this regard. I also share his focus here on laws of succession when raising the question of anomalism, as well as his suggestion (75) that considerations about mental causation lead to a form of monism. But for Fodor the latter move depends upon assumptions about realizability (‘implementation of mechanisms’) that already seem to beg significant questions about monism. See note 13 above, and discussion about the status of monism in the text further below, as well as §VI.

15 Though the passage is silent on the status of strict laws, the point about their homogeneity is suggested by the contrast made between heteronomic ceteris paribus laws and (therefore homonomic) strict laws. However, Fodor is actually very cagey about the vocabulary of strict laws; see his discussion of ‘basic’ laws and the status of physicalism at 75-7 of ‘Making Mind Matter More.’

16 McLaughlin, Brian ‘Anomalous Monism and the Irreducibility of the Mental,’ in Actions and Events: Essays on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson 331–68, at 342. A clear sign of the strain produced by this collapsing of distinctions shows up in McLaughlin's subsequent reading of Davidson's reference to ‘rough, but homonomic laws’ (ME, 223) in terms of strict laws which ‘fail to be as explicit and exceptionless as possible … [but] can be sharpened into one … without shifting to a different general vocabulary’ (346). How is that a strict law? McLaughlin's identification of ‘homonomic’ with ‘strict’ forces this clearly unhappy reading. Davidson is Unambiguously referring to ceteris paribus laws by the remark.

17 Multiple realizability is one natural candidate for this; see note 13 above.

18 I am indebted to comments of two anonymous referees for helping me to appreciate the importance of this issue for the present set of concerns.

19 See also Belief and the Basis of Meaning,’ reprinted in Davidson, DonaldInquiries into Truth and Interpretation (New York: Clarendon Press 1984) 141–54, at 154.

20 I should emphasize here that recognition of rationality as the essential individuating feature of the mental — as the interest which governs mental ascription — does not require seeing it as playing the central role in grounding mental anomalism. I discuss the role of explanatory interests in the individuation of vocabularies further in §V. I argue there that it is not which interest mental ascriptions serve, but that they serve a particular interest at all, which is at the basis of mental anomalism. This fact is tied directly to the generic causal definition of mental properties emphasized later in this paper.

21 See McLaughlin, ‘Anomalous Monism and the Irreducibility of the Mental,’ 357.

22 In ‘Psychophysical Laws,’ Kim presents a picture of how the existence of bridge laws connecting mental and physical properties would ‘change the subject’ that appears to apply directly to laws of succession. Bridge laws would transmit the constitutive elements of one domain to the laws governing the other domain, thus compromising the integrity of the latter (375). By licensing substitutions within the laws of succession, the bridge laws would thus lead to a ‘change of subject’ in those laws of succession. I have discussed a number of problems with this view in detail in ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism.’

23 This brings out a further problem with the attempt to ground mental anomalism in considerations of rationality. If that strategy turns on the point about a ‘change in subject,’ it is restricted to bridge laws, as argued in the text. Since it is thus limited to block the sorts of laws — strict psychophysical laws of succession — that the argument for monism depends upon having been blocked (see §VI), it is also too limited to ground mental anomalism, which is, after all, a completely general thesis.

24 The point is clearly made by Davidson at ME, 224. Strictly speaking, the point here is confined to types of mental events that causally interact with physica1 events; but it is these that are Davidson's concern in ME (208, 223). For further discussion of the point, see §VI, and ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism,’ §IV.

25 For more on this formulation of closure, see note 67 below and §VI.

26 It is perhaps worth recalling at this point that it is a basic assumption of this paper that no compelling argument for mental anomalism from considerations about rationality are forthcoming anyway (see note 5 above and surrounding text). See further §V below.

27 This is especially clear in Davidson, Problems in the Explanation of Action,’ in Pettit, P.Sylvan, R. and Norman, J. eds., Metaphysics and Morality (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1987) 3449 (hereafter, ‘PEA’), at 41.

28 See Davidson, Knowing One's Own Mind,’ Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 60 (1987) 441–58, at 444.

29 Davidson, ‘Actions, Reasons, and Causes,’ reprinted in Essays on Actions and Events 319

30 Davidson cites this as the central objection to non-causal theories of action (‘Actions, Reasons and Causes,’ 9-11). The issue is usefully discussed in Stoutland, FrederickThe Causation of Behavior,’ in Hintikka, J. ed., Essays on Wittgenstein in Honor of G.H. von Wright, Acta Philosophica Fennica 28, 1-3 (1976) 286325. The point is crucial to my strategy in this paper. I want to place all the weight of mental anomalism upon the causal nature of reasons, and so it matters how causation enters into their nature. I am emphasizing (along with Davidson) that it enters at the ground level: reasons are such only by virtue of their causal nature (see further §V). (Note that the claim that reasons are causes is a premise (PCI) in the argument for monism. Its deployment against non-causal theories of action thus does not depend upon assuming monism (or causal closure — see §VI below). This is relevant to epiphenomenalist criticisms of anomalous monism; see note 7 above.)

31 These points are also noted by McLaughlin, in ‘Anomalous Monism and the Irreducibility of the Mental,’ 345 & 349-50.

32 Unlike this tradition, however, Davidson has eschewed analyses of singular causal relations in terms of strict-law coverage. Moreover, his extensionalist account of causal relations between particular events indicates that he would not endorse Russell's and Quine's pictures of the non-objective nature of singular causal citations. (See note 38 below, and surrounding text, for how this bears on the use of causal terminology within strict laws.) But Davidson's causal realism is compatible with his sharing Russell's and Quine's view that strict laws cannot be formulated in terms of causally defined concepts. I am claiming that it is this stricture which is responsible for the impossibility of strict psychophysical laws. Davidson is thus a Humean about ‘causal’ laws, though not about singular causal relations.

33 Mill, J.S.Philosophy of Scientific Method, Nagel, E. ed., (New York: Hafner 1950), 195–6.

34 Davidson, ‘Causal Relations,’ reprinted in Essays on Actions and Events 149-62, at 157

35 Davidson, The Individuation of Events,’ reprinted in Essays on Actions and Events 163-80, at 171–2

36 Russell, BertrandOn the Notion of Cause,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society XIII (1912-13) 126

37 Quine, W.V.Natural Kinds,’ reprinted in his Ontological Relativity and other Essays (New York: Columbia 1969) 114–38, at 121 & 137-8, read alongside 131.

38 Davidson, however, does not share this view; his formulation of the structure of a strict law at 158 of ‘Causal Relations’ explicitly invokes the term ‘causes.’ See note 32above.

39 See Quine's, Reply to Charles Parsons,’ in Hahn, L. and Schilpp, P. eds., The Philosophy of W. V. Quine (La Salle: Opencourt Press 1986) 396403, at 397-8.

40 I do not distinguish between dispositions and causally defined properties here; the relevant distinction is between both of these, on the one hand, and the sorts of properties that can figure in strict laws, on the other. For discussion of the former distinction, see Shoemaker, SydneyCausality and Properties,’ reprinted in his Identity, Cause and Mind (New York: Cambridge 1984) 206–33. Shoemaker holds that dispositional predicates are those whose causal definition is contained in their meaning (210), and that is not true of all causally defined properties. Goodman, Nelson seems to have my wider use of ‘disposition’ in Fact, Fiction, and Forecast, 4th ed., (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1983), 41, n.7.

41 Quine, The Roots of Reference (La Salle: Opencourt 1974), 12

42 See Davidson, Three Varieties of Knowledge’ in Griffiths, A.P. ed., A.J. Ayer: Memorial Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press 1991) 153–66 (hereafter, ‘TVK’), at 163.

43 See Forbes, GraemeSkepticism and Semantic Knowledge,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 94 (1984) 223–37. Forbes does not use this holistic point (see below in the text) to block the possibility of strict psychophysical laws. His interest is in responding to rule-following objections to dispositional accounts of meaning.

44 It has plausibly been claimed that these conditions must be non-identical in order to deflect worries about dispositional explanations being vacuous. For discussion, see Fodor, You Can Fool Some of the People All of the Time: Hedged Laws and Psychological ExplanationsMind 100 (1991) 1933, and Pietroski, Paul and Rey, GeorgesWhen Other Things Aren't Equal: Saving Ceteris Paribus Laws from Vacuity,’ British Journal of the Philosophy of Science 46 (1995) 81110.

45 At ME 222 Davidson denies that ‘holism’ is the basis of mental anomalism, because it is true of both the psychological and the physical domains. But at issue there is an entirely different sense of holism than the dispositional sort described here.

46 Hume's claim that causes and effects must be ‘distinct’ entities should be understood to impose this same requirement of non-causal definition on nomic properties. See A Treatise of Human Nature, Selby-Bigge, L.A. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1888), 86. For discussion, see Anscombe, ElizabethTimes, Beginnings, and Causes,’ reprinted in Kenney, A. ed., Rationalism, Empiricism, and Idealism (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1986) 86103, at 88.

47 Though in his ‘Reply to Tyler Burge,’ read at the Western Division APA, 1989, Davidson writes that ‘it would be perfectly possible to individuate each igneous rock in non-causal terms (by location at various times, etc.)’ (ms., 5). It is worth comparing such space-time descriptions with Hume's own account of ‘distinct’ objects (see note 46 above). The fact that strict laws might be confined to formulation in such terms illustrates just how useless they would be for the purposes of explanation and prediction. For discussion, see ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism,’ §Vl, and §V below.

48 ‘Actions, Reasons and Causes,’ 16-18; ‘Causal Relations,’ 160

49 Goodman, NelsonFact, Forecast, and Fiction, 41ff. Goodman, however, allows that this distinction may be contextual, with no stable or unitary vocabulary for picking out ‘manifest’ properties (41, n.7). Davidson, following Quine, must take a more foundationalist line on such properties due to the PNCC. See discussion immediately below.

50 The Roots of Reference, 14

51 Quine, Facts of the Matter,’ reprinted in Shahan, R. and Swoyer, C. eds., Essays on the Philosophy of W. V. Quine (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press 1979) 155–69, at 165-6

52 I thus disagree with Stroud's, Barry claim, in his excellent ‘Quine's Physicalism,’ in Barrett, R. and Gibson, R. eds., Perspectives on Quine (Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1990) 321–33, that Quine's physicalism ‘contains nothing to make it a version of physicalism in particular. To say only that there is or will be some single, unified science capable of expressing everything that is fundamentally true of the world is not to attribute any specific character to the world’ (326). On the contrary, Quine's attitude towards the dispositional idiom provides a determinate, if unarticulated, conception of the character of physical terms.

31 I do not rule out additional counter-examples, which would work in SE cases, though the qualifications I introduce allow one to avoid the counter-examples most often found in the literature (see the last note). However, the possibility of additional counter-examples need not concern us, as the contributory view will be seen to fail, for other reasons.

54 Kim's reconstruction in ‘Psychophysical Laws’ does indeed explore the latter of these options; in ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism’ I argue against this reading of Davidson's project in ME.

55 Davidson, Representation and Interpretation,’ in Mohyeldin, K.A. Said; Newton-Smith, W.H.Viale, R. and Wilkes, K. eds., Modelling the Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1990) 13–26, at 24

56 I elaborate on the issues touched on in this paragraph in ‘Normativity, Externalism and the Status of Content,’ ms.

57 I am indebted to an anonymous referee for forcing me to be clearer on the issues discussed in what follows in the text. I have discussed related issues at greater length in ‘Normativity, Externalism and the Status of Content.’

58 The notion of ‘selection’ might misleadingly suggest that it is INUS conditions that are at issue. But if causal selectivity is supposed to entail anomalism, then it must be CP conditions that are selected, and this is not selection from a (potentially) fully explicated sufficient condition (see §III).

59 Recall, however, the moral of §II: ‘changing the subject’ here must refer to bridge laws, if it is even to suggest the possibility of quasi-definitional reduction. Davidson's point here seems to be that whether a change of subject has occurred depends upon whether the interests to which the vocabulary is responsive continue to have their purposes served by the new vocabulary. Suppose one is envisaging having dropped dispositional properties like elasticity in favor of nomic properties. Suppose also that no change of subject thus occurs. Then, since nomic properties are not interest-relative, one will have justified the claim that the particular explanatory interest that ‘elasticity’ served is inessential to the explanatory role it plays. This is because no change of subject has occurred in moving from interest-relative to non-interest-relative terms. See further discussion of this idea below in the text.

60 Strictly speaking, the issue is rationality, not normativity generally; indeed, as Davidson himself observes, normativity pervades all the sciences in some sense (ME, 220-1; PEA, 47). With this in mind, I will continue to talk in terms of normativity. I have discussed this issue further in ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism,’ §V.

61 In ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism,’ §VI, I discuss this point further, in the context of criticizing Child's (and McDowell's) reconstruction of Davidson's argument for mental anomalism (see note 4 above). I am grateful to David Brink for reassuring discussion of this issue.

62 Davidson's remark that ‘most of our practical lore (and science) is heteronomic’ (ME, 219) — which essentially means that it is formulated in an anomic vocabulary — bears this out. It is worth noting that in the passages following the apparent concession in the text (1VK, 163ff.), Davidson goes on to try to provide for this more basic asymmetry between psychology and the other special sciences. It is very difficult to see how what he says there adds up to an argument for mental anomalism in which normativity plays the critical role. I have discussed the bearing of those considerations on anti-eliminativism in ‘Normativity, Externalism and the Status of Content.’

63 In distinguishing between the dispositional status of psychological and folk-physical/ special-science properties, Davidson may have in mind a certain view about the concept of error (conditions of correctness for meanings and beliefs). The view is that the possibility of error is necessary and idiosyncratic to psychological properties, and depends upon failure of nomic inclusion. This would shift the weight of mental anomalism back onto considerations of normativity. I have discussed this issue in depth, and argued that this line of argument fails, in ‘Semantic Determinants and Psychology as a Science,’ forthcoming in Erkenntnis.

64 The status of folk-physics is a separate matter. In ‘Normativity, Externalism and the Status of Content,’ I argue that normativity and external constitution, the two essential features of commonsense psychological content, derive from an attitude of committed enquiry on which science, and therefore the very basis of eliminativism, depends.

65 See note 62 above and surrounding text.

66 For detailed discussion, see ‘Semantic Determinants and Psychology as a Science.’

67 This formulation of closure is weaker than Davidson's (ME 222), which further holds that every event has a physical causal explanation. But my formulation is easier to work with, and the difficulties it incurs when treated as an assumption in the argument for anomalous monism (see below in the text) carry Over directly to Davidson's. See also the discussion below in the text on the relation between general monism and closure.

68 In some of Davidson's formulations ‘closure’ is almost trivial (ME, 223-4), but the relevant form (see note 67 above and surrounding text) is clearly assumed in the official argument for anomalism (222). (In ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism’ I mistakenly criticized Kim's attribution of the assumption of causal closure to Davidson. I also argued very differently there than I do later in this section that closure adversely affects the argument for monism. See also note 2 above.) For Kim's attribution, see ‘Psychophysical Laws,’ 381 & 383-4 (though he appears to deny it at 377, in holding that the constitutive feature of the physical domain is the mere ‘absence of rationality’ as opposed to being causally closed.) One virtue of Kim's attribution of closure to Davidson that should be noted is that it makes sense of Davidson's announced target of ruling out strict laws with mental explananda. No mention is made of psychophysical laws with physical explananda such as ‘(M1 & M2) → P1’ and ‘(P1 & M1) → P2.’ This apparent oversight might be explained by a tacit assumption of closure, since (with monism as yet undecided) closure conflicts with and thus rules out the need to consider the possibility of such laws. For further discussion, see ‘Rationality and the Argument for Anomalous Monism,’ §IV. McLaughlin, in ‘Anomalous Monism and the Irreducibility of the Mental’ (343), appears to realize that closure cannot legitimately be assumed in Davidson's picture. But he fails to see that his own identification of strict and homogeneously formulated laws (see note 16 above) entails closure (see below in the text, and note 69).

69 It is important to realize that closure is weaker than either of these claims. Closure does hold that there are homogeneously formulated (i.e. physical) laws covering all causally interacting physical events. But closure is compatible with overdetermination together with the existence of strict psychophysical laws of succession (see discussion below in the text). It is therefore compatible with the existence of heterogeneously formulated strict laws. Thus, the criticisms I made in §II of the two claims do not tell directly against assuming closure.

70 Material from earlier versions of this paper was presented to colloquia at University College, Dublin and the University of California at Riverside, and I am grateful to those audiences for discussion. For valuable advice on earlier drafts, I am especially indebted to David Brink and Pat Kitcher. I would also like to thank Kelly Becker, Paul Churchland, Adrian Cussins, Nick Jolley, Pierre Keller, Philip .Kitcher, Noa Latham, Jim Levine, Sandy Mitchell, David Perlmutter, Jessica Pfeifer and Gila Sher, as well as several anonymous referees, for helpful comments.

Causation in the Argument for Anomalous Monism

  • Steven Yalowitz (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed