Philosophical Studies

, Volume 172, Issue 9, pp 2405–2425 | Cite as

Explaining causal closure

  • Justin TiehenEmail author


The physical realm is causally closed, according to physicalists like me. But why is it causally closed, what metaphysically explains causal closure? I argue that reductive physicalists are committed to one explanation of causal closure to the exclusion of any independent explanation, and that as a result, they must give up on using a causal argument to attack mind–body dualism. Reductive physicalists should view dualism in much the way that we view the hypothesis that unicorns exist, or that the Kansas City Royals won the 2003 World Series: false, but not objectionable in any distinctively causal way. My argument turns on connections between explanation, counterfactuals, and inductive confirmation.


Physicalism Causation Counterfactuals Induction Explanation Causal closure 



Thanks to William Beardsley, Sara Bernstein, Douglas Cannon, Carrie Figdor, Jaegwon Kim, Dan Korman, Geoffrey Lee, Aidan McGlynn, Paul Loeb, Gualtiero Piccinini, Ian Schnee, David Sosa, Ariela Tubert, Michael Tye, and Gene Witmer. Special thanks to Andrew Melnyk, and to John Heil, who oversaw the 2009 NEH Summer Seminar on Mind and Metaphysics, where an early version of the paper was presented.


  1. Chalmers, D. J. (1996). The conscious mind. In search of a fundamental theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Crisp, T., & Warfield, T. (2001). Kim’s master argument. Noûs, 35, 304–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Davidson, D. (1970). Mental events. In L. Foster & J. W. Swanson (Eds.), Experience and Theory. London: Duckworth.Google Scholar
  4. Davidson, D. (1995). Laws and cause. Dialectica, 49, 263–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Davies, M. (2004). Epistemic entitlement, warrant transmission and easy knowledge. Aristotelian Society Supplementary, 78, 213–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fodor, J. (1974). Special sciences. Synthese, 28, 77–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Foster, J. (1991). The immaterial self. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Goodman, N. (1955). Fact, fiction, and forecast. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Jackson, F. (1982). Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly, 32, 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kim, J. (1973). Causation, nomic subsumption, and the concept of an event. Journal of Philosophy, 70, 217–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kim, J. (1976). Events as property exemplifications. In M. Brand & D. Walton (Eds.), Action theory (pp. 159–177). Dordrecht: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kim, J. (2005). Physicalism, or something near enough. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Lange, M. (2000). Natural laws in scientific practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Levine, J. (2001). Purple haze: The puzzle of consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lewis, D. (1966). An argument for the identity theory. Journal of Philosophy, 63, 17–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lowe, E. J. (2009). Ontological dependence. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 52, 65–92.Google Scholar
  17. McLaughlin, B. (2003). McKinsey’s challenge. In S. Nuccetelli (Ed.), New essays on semantic externalism, skepticism, and self-knowledge. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Melnyk, A. (2003). A physicalist manifesto: Thoroughly modern materialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Papineau, D. (2001). The rise of physicalism. In C. Gillett & B. Loewer (Eds.), Physicalism and its discontents (pp. 3–36). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Papineau, D. (2002). Thinking about consciousness. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Pereboom, D. (2002). Robust nonreductive materialism. Journal of Philosophy, 99, 499–531.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pryor, J. (2004). What’s wrong with Moore’s argument? Philosophical Issues, 14, 349–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schaffer, J. (2003). Overdetermining causes. Philosophical Studies, 114, 23–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Shoemaker, S. (2007). Physical realization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sider, T. (2003). What’s so bad about overdetermination? Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 67, 719–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Silins, N. (2005). Transmission failure failure. Philosophical Studies, 126, 71–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Smart, J. J. C. (1959). Sensations and brain processes. Philosophical Review, 68, 141–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Tucker, C. (2010). When transmission fails. Philosophical Review, 119, 497–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tye, M. (1995). Ten problems of consciousness. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  30. Tye, M. (2009). Consciousness revisited: Materialism without phenomenal concepts. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Wright, C. (2003). Some reflections on the acquisition of warrant by inference. In S. Nuccetelli (Ed.), New Essays on semantic externalism, skepticism, and self-knowledge. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  32. Wright, C. (2004). Warrant for nothing (and foundations for free?). Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary, 78, 167–212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yablo, S. (1992). Mental causation. The Philosophical Review, 101, 245–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Puget SoundTacomaUSA

Personalised recommendations