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Durham Emergence Project


Causal Relata, Mental Causation and Causation


  • Michele Paolini Paoletti
  • Francesco Orilia
  • Marco Buzzoni
  • Cinzia Raffaelli

Project Description

The assumption that causation should be primarily considered a relation between events or facts has been recently questioned by several authors. Some philosophers have argued that (at least some cases of) causation involve(s) a relation between a substance (an agent) the cause – and an event or a fact (e.g., O’Connor, Clarke, Swinburne, Byerly, Lowe, Mayr, Runggaldier). Other philosophers have defended the thesis that causation is a relation between tropes (e.g., Ehring). Such revisions of that assumption have been motivated by different reasons. For example, concerning agent causation, many authors have come to believe that the exercise of free will is incompatible with traditional accounts of fact causation and/or event causation. Yet, while agent causation is usually restricted to the exercise of free will, I shall talk here of substance causation in order to characterize the thesis that all causal processes have substances as causes (see, for example, Lowe’s 2013 article Substance Causation, Powers, and Human Agency). Furthermore, it seems strange both to hold that substances have causal powers (i.e., that they can cause something) and that only facts (or events) stand in causal relations: if a substance has some peculiar causal power, why do we have to claim that only some fact (or event) involving that substance cause or can cause some other fact (or event)?

In connection with Durham Emergence Project’s second research question (“how do recent developments in the metaphysics of causation … bear on the possibility of downward causation, or mental causation?”), I wish to investigate how such debates on causal relata affect the metaphysical possibility and the formulation of downward causation and the connection between downward causation and mental causation.

In particular, I shall try to answer three questions:

1. provided that there are many accounts of downward causation (e.g., Emmeche, Kǿppe, Stjernfelt 2000 individuate three different versions of it), how should such accounts be developed in accordance with different theories of causal relata?

2. How should mental causation qua downward causation be analyzed in order to fit such theories of causal relata?

3. If there is something like downward causation and if mental causation can be considered a special case of downward causation, what is the account of causal relata that best fits the desiderata of a theory of downward causation and of mental causation qua downward causation (among the desiderata: the irreducibility of reciprocal causal interactions between higher-level entities and lower level ones; the irreducibility of mental states or mental properties or selves’ powers to neural states or proper ties or powers in their taking part in the causation of bodily effects)?

Read more at the project website