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The Debate on Mental Causation: Davidson and His Critics*

  • Ausonio Marras (a1)


The flurry of debates on mental causation in recent years has largely been occasioned by Donald Davidson's original and controversial views on the role of mind in the causation and explanation of behaviour. In his classic 1963 paper, “Actions, Reasons, and Causes,” Davidson argued, against the prevailing opinion of the Ryleans and later-Wittgensteineans, that in order to be genuinely explanatory of human behaviour, reasons must be causes; and in his equally influential and far more controversial 1970 paper, “Mental Events,” he undertook to show how reasons can be causes—how it is possible for our beliefs, desire, intentions, and the like, in terms of which we “rationalize” our behaviour, to be at the same time causes of our behaviour. While the basic thesis of the 1963 paper was widely accepted, setting a trend for much of the work on action theory for the following three decades, the account of the causal efficacy of mind in “Mental Events” generated a great deal of controversy. The debates continue, involving scores of participants but seldom Davidson himself. What makes the present collection of previously unpublished papers particularly interesting is that it contains Davidson's own reply to some of his most notable critics, together with their rejoinders; so we now have a contemporary perspective on the mental causation debate that Davidson initiated, unwittingly, a quarter of a century ago.



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Davidson, Donald 1963 “Actions, Reasons, and Causes.” Reprinted in Davidson (1980).
Davidson, Donald 1970 “Mental Events.” Reprinted in Davidson (1980).
Davidson, Donald 1976 “Hempel on Explaining Action.” Reprinted in Davidson (1980).
Davidson, Donald 1980 Essays on Actions and Events. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Davidson, Donald 1985 “Problems in the Explanation of Action.” In Metaphysics and Morality, edited by Pettit, et al. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 3449.
Fodor, Jerry 1989Making Mind Matter More.” Philosophical Topics, 17: 5979.
Horgan, Terence 1989Mental Quausation.” Philosophical Perspectives, 3: 4776.
Kim, Jaegwon 1979Causality, Identity, and Supervenience in the Mind-Body Problem.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 4: 3149.
Kim, Jaegwon 1984Concepts of Supervenience.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 45: 153–76.
Kim, Jaegwon 1989The Myth of Nonreductive Materialism.” Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 63, 3: 3147.
Kim, Jaegwon 1990a “Supervenience as a Philosophical Concept.”Metaphilosophy, 21:127
Kim, Jaegwon 1990b “Explanatory Exclusion and Mental Causation.” In Information, Semantics, and Epistemology. Edited by Villanueva, E.. Oxford: Blackwell.
Kim, Jaegwon 1995Mental Causation: What? Me Worry?Philosophical Issues, 6:123151.
Lepore, Ernest, and Loewer, Barry 1987Mind Matters.” Journal of Philosophy, 84: 630–42.
Marras, Ausonio 1993Psychophysical Supervenience and Nonreductive Materialism.” Synthese, 95: 275304.
Marras, Ausonio 1994Nonreductive Materialism and Mental Causation.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 24: 465–94.
McLaughlin, Brian 1989Type Epiphenomenalism, Type Dualism, and the Causal Priority of the Physical.” Philosophical Perspectives, 3: 109–35.
Sosa, Ernest 1984Body-Mind Interaction and Supervenient Causation.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy, 84: 630–42.
Vermazen, Bruce, and Hintikka, Merrill, eds., 1985 Essays on Davidson: Actions and Events. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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