Mental causation, trying, and the emotions
How is it possible for the mind to have causal power in a world that is taken to be fundamentally physical?
Among contemporary philosophers, the most common way to account for mental causation is to offer a non-reductive materialist account. Such accounts maintain that the mental is determined or somehow necessitated by the physical, and that mental states of affairs depend on physical states of affairs for their existence. I argue that all such accounts imply that it is the physical that does the real causing, so that the mental turns out to lack genuine causal power.
I argue that because such accounts fail to explain how the mental has novel causal power that is in some sense independent of the physical, we have good reason to look for an alternative (yet still non-dualist) account. However, I begin to develop an alternative account of mental causation not by delving into the metaphysics of mind, but rather by exploring philosophy of action and emotion. My hope is that by using philosophy of action as my starting point, I can (1) develop a correct account of intentional action that makes sense of the wide variety of bodily movements that animals perform; and (2) devise a theory of mental causation that relies upon and reflects these insights.
The causal theory of action that I develop conceptualizes intentional bodily movement in terms of guidance and control. I describe ‘trying’ as a causal process that begins prior to action and extends throughout its duration so that it can guide action to completion. By examining the central role of the emotions in action, I hope to show that the mental side of trying should be traced to conscious emotions or feelings rather than conscious judgments or beliefs. The theory of mental causation that I set forth maintains that mental states of affairs and neurophysiological states of affairs can together serve as joint sufficient causes of the intentional bodily movements of conscious animals. I understand the unique causal role of mental features in terms of structuring causation and constraint.