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Evaluate the Causal Argument for the Identity Theory of the Mind

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Evaluate the causal argument for the Identity Theory In simplistic terms, the Identity Theory of the mind holds that mind states and mind processes are, in fact, the same, or identical, to those of the brain. This abandonment of earlier dualism can generally be termed physicalist or materialist, but for the purpose of this essay I shall be using the former. Early proponents of this theory hold that mental events can be identified by corresponding physical events; Hence the mysticism previously attached to the workings of the mind pre-twentieth century, can be brought down to earth and to the purely physical realm. E.G Boring may well have been the first to use the term 'Identity Theory' in 1933, and it should be noted that its place in history, as a theory, is fundamental to its basis, which, naturally, relies on the development of science and great leaps in empirical discovery into the nature and composition of neural states and stimuli; but it must also be noted that due to the imposing but not entirely conclusive scientific evidence thus far, the Identity Theory must still be regarded, as Ullin T. Place describes it, as a scientific hypothesis, rather than a scientific fact. The causal argument disposes of any vague notions of correspondence stating, in loose terms, that because we can find 'full physical causes' for many effects of mental events/processes, and because it seems illogical to suppose they are caused 'twice over1,' that what we perceive to be mental events/processes previously viewed to be distinct, are, in fact, identical to physical events/processes. ...read more.


This introduces the idea of physical effects being overdetermined. Typical examples of overdetermination include events such as someone being shot by a firing squad, or to use Papineau's example, the idea of someone being shot and struck by lightning at the same time. However, intuitively this seems false. In both examples the effect of the person dying could be caused by either but more importantly cause be caused by one without the existence of the other, ie if the man had not been shot he would stil have been killed by the lightning. In the case of human physical behaviour this implies that without a physical cause the physical effect would still have taken place with just the supposedly sufficient mental cause. This again seems intuitively false, although may have seemed more than reasonable to dualists such as Descartes, as empirically we know that, for example, is a person is, for want of a better expression, brain dead, and has no conscious mind, or physical brain activity, it would be impossible for him to be conscious, and hence have mental events that could cause physical effects. Similarly it seems odd to suggest that I would have, to refer to my previous example, gone to get a drink of water if I had not felt thirsty. Or if I had not felt cold I would not have gone to put another jumper on. Hence we are lead to the third premise of the argument. This premise roughly acknowledges that, to use Papineau's formulation of this premise: 'The physical causes of consciousness aren't always over-determined by distinct causes.7' However, it is possible to refute premise three and claim that there are two distinct causes, which act together (so to speak.) ...read more.


So in my above example, we can reject the firing of C fibres as being identical to pain sensation, and as Putnam suggests move towards the idea of identifying it with its functional roles17. By taking this convincing line of argument we are, however, forced to abandon at least some if not all of the causal arguments claims, but it has been argued that it is possibly to reconstruct the causal argument in a way that reaches the functionalist conclusion. As Papineau notes, it could be possible by first adjusting the first premise of the causal argument to imply a much weaker sense of causal roles, giving the possibility of causing physical effects or potentially having what Papineau calls 'realizers' that directly cause them. This allows for a much less strict identification with physical states and gives a means of 'identifying them with second order states which are physically realized.18' Hence we may conclude that if mental states are not strictly identical with the corresponding physical states, they must at least be identical with functional 'role' properties that are physically realized for there to be causal fluidity between the two. Without this adjustment the causal argument for the identity theory still stands as plausible and appealing theory that marks progress in theories of mental causation. Though it has difficulty withstanding the problem of multiple realisation it is still of some value, particularly when accompanied with empirical evidence rather than as an abstract, and can be used comfortably to support the identity theory and physicalism and shed some light in conceptual analysis in this field. ...read more.

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