Normativism and mental causation



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This dissertation defends a certain view of the mind/body relation, according to which although there is a sense in which everything is physical, there is also a sense in which mental phenomena are irreducible to physical phenomena. The reason for this irreducibility, according to the position defended in this work, is that the mental has a certain normative character which the physical lacks. The central thesis defended in the first part of the work is the claim, advanced by Donald Davidson among others, that the mental realm is governed by constitutive principles of rationality. I both attempt to explain what this means precisely and provide arguments as to why we should think that it is true. Having defended the thesis, I then turn to show that it entails that certain mental phenomena are normative. If the normative is generally irreducible to the non-normative -- as I argue there is good reason to hold -- it then follows as a special case that the mental phenomena in question are irreducible to any (non-normative) physical phenomena. Is this form of antireductionism scientifically respectable? In the second part of the dissertation I attempt to establish that it is by showing that the view can be reconciled with a physicalistically acceptable account of mental causation. Focusing on the causal exclusion problem advanced by Jaegwon Kim among others, I critically discuss both reductive and certain nonreductive solutions to the problem that have been advanced by various philosophers. I then propose my own nonreductive solution to the problem, and attempt to draw out some of the consequences of this solution both for physicalism and for the nature of normativity.