Evaluate the Causal Argument for the Identity Theory of the Mind

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Charlotte Matthews


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 over,’ that what we perceive to be mental events/processes previously viewed to be distinct, are, in fact, identical to physical events/processes.

As a starting point, it seems prudent to point out the reasons why one might even suggest such a theory. Why do we associate our concept of the brain with the complex and elusive ‘mind?’ As Kim points out ‘why are we inclined to think that the brain is “the seat of our mental life?” as Descartes put it.”’ Kim argues it is not A Priori and is in fact is a suggestion based on the empirical, and is one that is fairly easy to substantiate. Kim gives the examples of drugs effecting mood as an instance of physical effects on the brain having the power to effect the conscious mind, as does brain damage effect the conscious mind in more serious ways. With what seem to be such obvious inextricable connections, it seems only natural to suggest pyschoneural arguments that although the mind and the brain are not ‘lexical synonyms’ they refer to the same thing. For example, if we were outside and saw lightning, most people would refer to it as lightning rather than electrical light discharge. This phenomena is in fact both of these things so the two different should, rather than being described as meaning the same, be described as referring to the same thing. From this line of thinking it seems to me holistically this issue of mind-body or even mind/brain distinction and their ‘individual’ causal roles could be reduced to merely a ‘terminological issue.Feigl and Smart have defined this enquiry as to the nature of concepts as more of a case of distinguishing the meaning of a concept from its referent; such a belief seems plausibly to justify the claim that the causal argument is more of ‘a research programme in conceptual analysis rather than a developed theory.’ But this is something I will discuss later in my evaluation of the argument itself in its entirety. I will begin by an assessment of the argument via a more structural approach.

The Causal Argument begins by stating that mental events have physical effects. I shall refer to this as premise one. This may seem fairly easy to accept; there are many examples in day-to-day life where mental events appear to have physical effects, or cause physical events. For example, if a person touches a hot surface and is in a mental state of ‘pain’ it might generally be presumed that this pain causes us to remove our hand from said hot surface; or if we feel thirsty it generally follows that this thirst is what causes us to subsequently go to fetch a drink of water, for example. These examples seem to support the premise fairly well as long as we agree that the mind has causal power. But what if we don’t? This premise presumes a mind-body causal relation that Ephiphenomenalists for example, refute entirely by denying the mind any causal power at all. This evaluation of the mind as a causally superfluous entity is the basis for what is known as the exclusion problem. However, if we are to accept the conclusion of the causual argument, that being that mental events are identical to physical events, Epiphenomenalism does not necessarily require us to dispose of this view as they are seemingly fighting slightly different battles. Namely that the Causal argument seeks to bring the concept of the mind into the physical realm, whereas Ephiphenonalism does not seek to reinvent the concept of the mind rather to express that whatever your concept of the mind, rather than the brain for example, it, as a concept, is inert and superfluous and that there are no mental facts above physical facts. As Kim writes, ‘this means that although we may continue to find mentalistic expressions useful and practically indispensable language; physical language will in principle be adequate for the description of all the facts.’ This supports my earlier suggestions that rather than argue over their causal power perhaps one should accept they are just different concepts, one tending to be scientifically accurate, with its basis in accurate biological physiological terms, and one of a more sociolinguistic nature that still have the same referent. In simplistic terms, two concepts referring to the same thing. To use a well known example, Clark kent and Superman. With some adjustment we can still maintain the claim that what we conceive to be mental events, that being the products of what is generally thought of as ‘the mind’ rather than the brain, if they are in fact one and the same, do effect our physiological processes and are also determinable. However, it seems to me that to agree in this case, you must first accept the conclusion of the causal argument, and hence in the circularity of this assumption I find my first flaw, but it does not impede upon the cause of the physicalism too heavily and so I shall continue.

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The second premise holds that every physical event in the world has a physical cause. This is known as the completeness principle but is not intended to be a necessary truth or an analytic truth, and seems more to be an empirical premise. In longhand this premise hold that all physical effects are purely caused by physical prior histories. The thought being in terms on the human mind and body that our physical behaviour will have been fully caused by relaxing or contracting or muscles, which would have been caused by the sending of messages through your ...

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