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Physicalism, Closure, and the Structure of Causal Arguments for Physicalism: A Naturalistic Formulation of the Physical

Abstract

Physicalism is the idea that everything either is physical or is nothing over and above the physical. For this formulation of physicalism to have determinate content, it should be identified what the “physical” refers to; i.e. the body problem. Some other closely related theses, especially the ones employed in the causal arguments for different versions of physicalism, and more especially the causal closure thesis, are also subject to the body problem. In this paper, I do two things. First, I explore the structure of causal arguments for physicalism that represents a general argument. To do this, the premises and the conclusion of the general argument are given exact formulations. Second, drawing on those premises, especially the causal closure thesis, I propose a naturalistic formulation of the physical that satisfies the requirements any formulation of the physical is expected to fulfill. Following this proposal, we also have a recursive algorithm to recognize the set of all physical events.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    They include the current theory (or the currentist) formulation (van Fraassen 1996; Melnyk 1997, 2003; Vicente 2011; for objections to this formulation see Montero 1999; Crook and Gillett 2001; Dowell 2006a; Ney 2008), the final theory (or the futurist) formulation (see, e.g., Dowell 2006b; Papineau 2009; for objections to this formulation see van Fraassen 1996; Montero 1999; Crook and Gillett 2001; Chomsky 2006; Ney 2008), the microphysicalists’ formulation (see, e.g., Pettit 1993; Jackson 1998; Papineau 2009; for objections to this formulation see Stoljar 2010; Crane and Mellor 1990; Crane 1993), the object-based formulation (see, e.g., Meehl and Sellars 1956; Jackson 1998; Snowdon 1989; for objections to this formulation see Montero 1999; Stoljar 2015), the no fundamental mentality formulation (Wilson 2006; Montero 2003; for objections to this formulation see Dowell 2006b; Judisch 2008), and the space-time-based (or space-based) formulation of the physical (see Meehl and Sellars 1956; Markosian 2000; Charles 1992; for objections to this formulation see Crane and Mellor 1990; Crane 1994; Montero 1999; Earman 1976; Daly 1998).

  2. 2.

    This defect of physicalism has also been employed to argue directly against physicalism (see Crane and Mellor 1990; Chomsky 1994). It seems the argument still has not been met properly (see Poland 2003).

  3. 3.

    The reason behind following a formal approach here is twofold. First, all the principles and theses discussed here are given exact formulations. It serves to perform more accurate analyses. For example, it helps to make it clear that the general causal argument needs an extra premise to be valid in addition to the three ones different versions of which are generally thought to serve as the premises of the causal arguments. Second, although the proposed formulation of the physical is conceptually straightforward, its exact formulation as well as its justification is a bit tricky, and it can be better vindicated formally.

  4. 4.

    Most physicalists endorse an actual-world version of physicalism (Daly 1998; Stoljar 2010, 2015; Göcke 2009; Strawson 2003). However, some physicalists believe in physicalism as a necessary thesis that is true in every possible world. Here, I consider the actual-world physicalism.

  5. 5.

    The relation ‘C’ may be interpreted differently. See the section §5.1 below.

  6. 6.

    It is important to note that we should also determine what the causal relation C is. It is another issue that, due to space limitations, I cannot tackle it here.

  7. 7.

    Here, for the sake of simplicity, I do not explicitly exclude the genuine cases of causal overdetermination from (EP) as was done in, e.g., Kim’s (2005, p. 17) definition of the principle.

  8. 8.

    Some endorse (MC) at least concerning mental events (see, e.g., Papineau 1993; Kim 2011; Tiehen 2015b, 2018). In some works, the principle of mental causation is vaguely introduced as a thesis like this: “Mental occurrences have physical effects” (Papineau 1990, p. 67; see also Papineau 1998; Sturgeon 1998; Bishop 2006; Stoljar 2015). However, in most of the works, it is implicitly suggested that the principle is true of all mental events. One proposal to reformulate (MC) is to say that every actual event has some actual or merely possible effect. This modal formulation seems reasonable since every actual event should at least be able to be perceived in one way or other, and perception, in general, includes some instance of causation.

  9. 9.

    It should not be confused with what Bishop (2006) calls “the hidden premise in the causal argument for physicalism.”

  10. 10.

    To overcome the body problem as an obstacle to defend the causal completeness of physics, Papineau proposes “we simply define ‘physics’ as the science of whatever categories are needed to give full explanations for all physical effects” (Papineau 1993, pp. 29–30 (original italics)), and the class of “the physical” is the set of all those categories. Then, to avoid the obvious circularity of the definition, he proposes “we simply postulate some pre-theoretically given class of paradigmatic physical effects, such as stones falling, the matter in our arms moving, and so on” (Papineau 1993, p. 30). Therefore, he becomes able to formulate physicalism and to defend causal completeness at the same time (“physics,” though a different science from what we now call ‘physics,’ is complete by definition). Although his proposal for defining the physical has some in common with mine, I strongly oppose any endeavor to define a branch of science a priori without paying attention to its “extra-scientific” – most importantly, social – aspects of that branch of science, which is the case in Papineau’s proposal. In comparison, my proposal, as is shown, is not subject to the same objection.

  11. 11.

    This idea of the physical has some similarities with that of “levels-physicalism” suggested by Hüttemann and Papineau (2005; see especially fn. 4).

  12. 12.

    It should be noted that it is one part of (CFP), i.e. (CFP-S), that is directly a posteriori justified, and the justification of (CFP-N) is the argument from (EP), (MC), and (SHP) to the conclusion (CFP-N).

  13. 13.

    Thanks an anonymous reviewer of the Review of Philosophy and Psychology for notifying this potential objection to me.

  14. 14.

    Thanks to Daniel Stoljar for reminding me of this objection.

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Acknowledgements

The research project that led to this paper was funded by Iran National Science Foundation (INSF-98018024). I am deeply indebted to Laleh Ghadakpour for her extended comments on several various drafts of this paper. I should also thank Kim Sterelny, Hossein Sheykh-Rezaee, Daniel Stoljar, Justin Tiehen, Janice Dowell, and an anonymous reviewer of the Review of Philosophy and Psychology for their valuable comments on various drafts of this paper or its earlier versions.

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The research project that led to this paper was funded by Iran National Science Foundation (INSF) under grant agreement no. INSF-98018024.

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Correspondence to Hamed Bikaraan-Behesht.

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Bikaraan-Behesht, H. Physicalism, Closure, and the Structure of Causal Arguments for Physicalism: A Naturalistic Formulation of the Physical. Rev.Phil.Psych. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13164-021-00567-0

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Keywords

  • Physicalism
  • Causal closure
  • The physical
  • Body problem
  • Mental causation
  • Exclusion principle