The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind 


▷ McLaughlin, Brian P., Ansgar Beckermann & Sven Walter (eds.) (Jan. 2009). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

 EXCERPT from 
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind, (p. 4-5)

1. Jaegwon Kim's 'Mental Causation'.

As Kim points out, the problem of mental causation ― the problem of how mental states and events can have causal effects ― is essentially coeval with the mind-body problem. Descartes famously argued that mental substances are distinct from physical substances in that mental substances are not located in space. Given this substance dualism, the question arises as to how the mental and the physical are related. Descartes's answer was that they are causally related; specifically that minds and brains causally interact. Certain states of and changes in the brain cause states of and changes in a non-spatial mental substance; and states of and changes in the mental substance cause certain states of and changes in the brain. In response, Princess Elisabeth wrote to Descartes: 'I admit that it would be easier for me to concede matter and extension to the mind than it would be for me to concede the capacity to move a body and be moved by one to an immaterial thing' (Garber 2001: 172). As Kim notes, this may well be the first statement of a causal case for physicalism. The debate over whether dualism can capture mental causation had begun.

     Kim argues that Cartesian substance-dualist accounts of mental causation succumb to 'a pairing problem' ― the problem of linking mental events with their alleged causes and effects. He argues that the problem can be resolved only if causes and effects are located in space-time framework, and hence that the problem of mental causation is insuperable for Cartesian substance dualism. Kim goes on to present a number [of] ways in which the problem of mental causation arises even for various contemporary theories of mind that reject Cartesian substance dualism but that nevertheless maintain the property-dualist view that mental properties are not identical with physical properties. He notes that Donald Davidson's doctrine of anomalous monism faces the problem of how mental events can have causal effects in virtue of being instances of mental properties, given that causation, on Davidson's view, is subsumption under a strict physical law. In addition, Kim argues that the functionalist thesis that mental properties are functional properties that are realized by, though not identical to, physical properties cannot vindicate the view that instances of mental properties have causal effects. Moreover, he discusses his own supervenience (or exclusion) argument for the claim that mental events are either reducible to physical events or else epiphenomena (devoid of causal effects). He defends his argument against a variety of objections that have been raised to it in the literature, including the objections that the argument relies on assumptions that have the absurd consequence that special-science causation is impossible, that it relies on an untenable productive/generative conception of causation, and that it fails to rule out the possibility that mental causation involves a tenable form of overdetermination. 


McLaughlin, Brian P., Ansgar Beckermann & Sven Walter (Jan. 2009). Introduction. In The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 1-26).

See Full Text ⇒ 


 EXCERPT from: 

Kim, Jaegwon (Jan. 2009). Mental Causation. In McLaughlin, Brian P., Ansgar Beckermann & Sven Walter (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Mind. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. (pp. 29-52). 



THE problem of mental causation is essentially coeval with the mind-body problem. Descartes arguably invented the latter when, in Meditation 2, he asked 'But what then am I?' to which he replied 'A thing which thinks', and then went on to argue, in Meditation 6, that 'it is certain that this I is entirely and absolutely distinct from my body, and can exist without it'.1 As every student of western philosophy knows, Descartes's view was that minds and bodies constitute two disjoint categories of substance: minds are immaterial substances whose essential nature is thinking, while bodies are material substances located in physical space whose essence consists in being extended in space. Presumably, substance dualism of this form was not startling news to anyone at the time. However, Descartes, alone among the great rationalists of his day, urged a further view: minds and bodies are in causal interaction with each other, minds influencing bodies in voluntary actions and bodies influencing minds in perception and sensation. Leibniz famously denied causal interactions between all monads; occasionalists like Malebranche allowed no causal relations anywhere in the created world, with God as the sole causal agent; and there probably was no room for genuine mind-body causation in Spinoza's doctrine of a single substance with mind and body as its two parallel attributes. It is not surprising then that Descartes's contemporaries lost no time in contesting his interactionist thesis, which, to many of us today, is probably the most commonsensical and plausible of the doctrines that make up Descartes's theory of the mind. Among the prominent critics of the interactionist thesis were Pierre Gassendi, Antoine Arnauld, and

1 Descartes (1641/1984). The quotations are taken from The Philosophical Works of Descartes, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1931). 


Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. The challenge posed to him was in essence this question: How can substances with such diverse natures, one with thinking as its essence and not even located in space and the other with extension and location in space, causally influence each other? Thus was the problem of mental causation born.

     Some commentators have attributed the fall of Cartesian dualism to Descartes's inability to come up with a satisfactory response to this challenge (Watson 1987). What is remarkable is the fact that the problem of mental causation didn't go away with the downfall of substance dualism. Although substance dualism has not totally vanished from the contemporary scene and there have recently been some attempts to resuscitate it, philosophy of mind since the mid-twentieth century has been dominated by a strong physicalist outlook, and the agenda of the field has consisted largely in various physicalist/naturalist programmes ― the projects of 'naturalizing' centrally important mental phenomena, such as intentionality, content, and consciousness. The re-emergence of mental causation as a major problematic in the 1960s was occasioned by the reluctance on the part of most philosophers of mind to go all the way with physicalism. These philosophers reject the dualism of mental and material substances, recognizing only material things as the inhabitants of the world, and yet they are deeply committed to the preservation of mental properties and kinds as genuine but physically irreducible properties and kinds. And part of what makes mental properties 'genuine' properties is their possession of causal efficacy. That is to say, these property dualists hold the view that a mental property when possessed by a material thing endows it with distinctive causal powers, powers that are irreducible to those of physical properties. The question that has been raised concerning this combination of doctrines parallels the challenge posed to Cartesian interactionist dualism: Given the irreducible diversity of the two domains of properties, mental and physical, how is it possible for an object's mental properties to have causal powers to affect, and be affected by, its physical properties? Just as the essential diversity in their natures turned out, for substance dualists, to be an insuperable obstacle to explaining causal relations between mental and material substances, the purported autonomy of mental properties vis-à-vis physical properties has proved, for physicalist property dualists, to be a seemingly intractable difficulty in accommodating mind-body causation.

     Before we turn to the comtemporary debate, it will be instructive to see wherein the real difficulties lie for substance dualism in accounting for mental causation.

1.1 Substance Dualism and Mental Causation 

In Meditation 2, Descartes writes:

by a body I understand whatever has a determinable shape and a definable location and can occupy a space in such a way as to exclude any other body; it can be perceived by touch, sight, 



hearing, taste or smell, and can be moved in various ways, not by itself but by whatever else comes into contact with it. (Descartes 1641/1984: 17) 

This suggests that physical causation requires contact the object that causally influences another must come into contact with it. In view of the transitivity of causation, the cause need not be in direct contact with the object in which a change is caused, but it is clear that, on Descartes's view, where there are causally related objects there must be objects in contact. And, evidently, the very idea of contact requires spatiality. Given this, Princess Elisabeth's request to Descartes, in her letter of May 1643, seems eminently natural and reasonable she asked Descartes to explain

how the mind of a human being can determine the bodily spirits in producing voluntary actions, being only a thinking substance. For it appears that all determination of movement is produced by the pushing of the thing being moved, by the manner in which it is pushed by that which moves it, or else by the qualification and figure of the surface of the latter. Contact is required for the first two conditions, and extension for the third. [But] you entirely exclude the latter from the notion you have of the soul, and the former seems incompatible with an immaterial thing.2 

Descartes's reply was that mind-body causation must be understood through the idea of mind-body union, and that this is a primitive notion that is intelligible per se. Causation among material things is causation by contact; however, the issue of contact does not arise with respect to mind-body union. I will comment on this approach later, but for now let us return to Princess Elisabeth. Apparently unsatisfied by Descartes's response, she writes back:

And I admit that it would be easier for me to concede matter and extension to the mind than it would be for me to concede the capacity to move a body and be moved by one to an immaterial thing.3

I find this response remarkable in fact, fascinating; it is, to my knowledge, the first causal argument for physicalism that I know. She would rather physicalize the mind ('easier for me to concede matter and extension to the mind') than accept causal relations between immaterial minds and material bodies.

     Princess Elisabeth's difficulty with mental causation within the Cartesian setting depended on a particular conception of physical causation; namely, that physical causation requires contact between cause and effect, whether direct or mediated. But perhaps causation at a distance, without mediating chains of contiguous cause-effect pairs, cannot be ruled out a priori. I believe, though, that it can be shown that the difficulties that beset causal relations involving immaterial, non-spatial entities go deeper and do not depend on the assumption that physical causation requires contact or contiguity. They would arise even for causation, or action, at a distance (if such

2 This and other quotations from the correspondence between Princess Elisabeth and Descartes are taken from Garber (2001). The present quotation is from p. 172 (except for a correction of an apparent typo: in the last sentence 'body' has been replaced with 'soul').

3 Princess Elisabeth to Descartes, June 1643 (ibid.).




should exist). A plausible argument can be developed, at a more abstract and general level, that shows that causation is inseparable from spatiality, and that causal relations between immaterial souls that is, mind-mind causation are just as problematic as mind-body causation and for the same reason.

     Here is the argument.4 Let us first consider an example of physical causation. A gun, call it A, is fired and this causes the death of a person, X. Another gun, B, is fired at the same time (say, in A's vicinity but the time and place are unimportant), and this results in the death of another person, Y. What makes it the case that the firing of A caused X's death and the firing of B caused Y's death, and not the other way around that is, A's firing causing Y's death and B's firing causing X's death? That cannot be an unexplainable brute fact. There must be a relation R that grounds and explains the 'cause-effect pairings', a relation that holds between A's firing and X's death and also between B's firing and Y's death, but not between A's firing and Y's death or between B's firing and X's death. What is this R, the 'pairing relation' as we might call it? We are not supposing at this point that there is a single such R for all cases of physical causation, only that some relation must ground the fact that a given cause is a cause of the particular effect that is caused by it.

     Two ideas immediately come to mind. The first is the idea of a causal chain: there is a continuous causal chain from A's firing to X's death, as there is from B's firing to Y's death, whereas no such chains link A's firing with Y's death or B's firing with X's death. The second idea is that each gun when it was fired was at an appropriate distance and in appropriate orientation relative to the person it killed, but not to the person it did not kill. That is, spatial relations do the job of pairing causes with their effects.

     A moment of reflection shows that the causal chain idea will not work as an independent solution to the problem. A causal chain, after all, is a chain of causally connected events, and interpolating more cause-effect pairs will obviously not solve the pairing problem. It is plausible to think that spatial relations, and more broadly spatio-temporal relations, must play a role in generating pairing relations. Intuitively, space seems to have nice causal properties; for example, as distance increases, causal influence diminishes, and it is often possible to set up barriers, at intermediate points, to block or impede the propagation of causal influence. In any case, I can state my fundamental assumption in general terms, and it is this: It is metaphysically possible for there to be two distinct physical objects, a and b, with the same intrinsic properties and hence the same causal potential or powers; further, one of these, say a, causes a third object, c, to change in a certain way but object b has no causal effect on c. Now, the fact that a, but not b, causes c to change must be grounded in some fact about a, b, and c. Since a and b have the same intrinsic properties, it must be their relational properties with respect to c that provide an explanation of their different

4 I will give only a brief sketch of the argument; for a fuller discussion see Kim (2001) or Kim (2005: ch. 3). I first discussed the pairing problem in Kim (1973). My reflections were prompted by Foster (1968). Foster was the first to discuss the pairing problem, but he believes that a substance dualist can live with it: see Foster (1989). Haskell Fain discussed a similar problem in Fain (1963).



causal roles vis-à-vis c. What relational properties, or relations, can do this job? The only plausible answer seems to be that it is the spatial relation between a and c, and that between b and c, that are responsible for the causal difference between a and b vis-à-vis c (a was in the right spatial relation to c; b was 'too far away' from c to exert any influence). At least, there is no other possible explanation that comes to mind. Later I will give an explanation of what it is about spatial relations that enables them to serve as causal pairing relations.

     Now consider the possibility of immaterial souls, outside physical space, causally interacting with material objects in space. The following again should be a metaphysically possible situation: Two souls that have the same intrinsic properties5 act in a certain way at the same time, and as a result a certain material object undergoes a change. Moreover, it is the action of one of the souls, not that of the other, that is the cause of the physical change. What makes it the case that this is so? What pairing relation pairs the first soul, but not the second, with the physical object? Since souls, as immaterial substances, are outside physical space, it is not possible to invoke spatial relations to do the pairing. What possible relations could provide causal pairings across the two domains, one of spatially located material things and the other of immaterial minds outside space?

     Consider a variation on the foregoing example: There are two physical objects, P1 and P2, with the same intrinsic properties, and an action of an immaterial soul causally affects one of them, say P1, but not P2. How can we explain this? Since P1 and P2 have identical intrinsic properties, they must have the same causal capacity ('passive' as well as 'active' causal powers), and it would seem that the only way to make them discernible in a causal context is their spatial relations to other things. Doesn't that mean that any pairing relation that could do the job in this case must be a spatial relation? If so, the pairing problem for this case is unsolvable, since the soul is not in space and cannot bear spatial relations to anything. The soul cannot be any 'nearer' to, or 'more properly oriented' toward, one physical object than the other. Nor can we say that there is a causal barrier 'between' the soul and one of the physical object but not the other; for what can 'between' mean as applied to something in space and something outside it? It is a total mystery what non-spatial relations there can be that might help distinguish, from the point of view of an immaterial soul, between two intrinsically indiscernible physical objects.

     According to Descartes, the pineal gland is where the soul and the body meet for mutual causal action. The soul of course cannot literally be in the pineal gland, though it was claimed to move the gland to and fro and thereby initiate the motion of animal spirits. One implicit assumption here is that my mind acts on my pineal gland, and your mind acts on yours. More generally, a person is a 'union', Descartes said, of an immaterial mind and a material body, and, as noted, he claimed the idea of mind-body union to be a primitive, per se intelligible notion. It is possible to construe this

5 If you are inclined to invoke the identity of intrinsic indiscernibles for souls to dissipate the issue, the next situation we will consider involves only one soul and the supposed remedy does not apply. Moreover, the pairing problem can be generated without assuming that there can be distinct intrinsic indiscernibles. This assumption, however, helps present the problem in a simple and compelling way.



as Descartes's answer to the pairing problem. That is, in our foregoing example, what distinguishes the two souls in their causal relationship to a material thing, when this is a human body, is that the first, not the second, forms a 'union' with it. Moreover, through this union relationship with a material body your soul can causally reach other material things, since spatial relations are now available to do the causal pairings between your body and material things around it. Something like this may well seem to the committed dualist like a reasonable way out, but we can hardly accept it as a solution to the problem at hand. The reason is that mind-body causation is implicitly, and ineliminably, involved in the notion of a union of a mind and a body. A mind is united with that body with which it is in 'direct' causal relation, that is, without another body or mind serving as a causal intermediary. This pineal gland, not that one, counts as mine precisely because my mind is in direct causal contact with it and only with it. It is difficult to see what other explanation is possible. Unless we understand mind-body causation, therefore, we do not understand mind-body union. And we do not understand mind-body causation unless we have a solution to the pairing problem for minds and bodies. Simply declaring mind-body union a primitive and yet intelligible notion, as Descartes apparently did, does not help.

     But could there be causal interactions among immaterial minds? Ruling out mind-body causation does not in itself rule out the possibility of an autonomous domain of immaterial minds in which minds are in causal commerce with other minds. Perhaps that is the picture of a purely spiritual afterlife offered by some religions and theologies. Is that a possibility? The pairing problem makes such an idea a dubious proposition. Again, any substance dualist who wants causation in the immaterial realm must allow the possibility of there being three mental substances, M1, M2, and M3, such that M1 and M2 have the same intrinsic properties, and hence the same causal powers, and yet an action by M1, but not the same action by M2 at the same time, is causally responsible for a change in M3. In such a situation, what pairing relation could connect M1, but not M2, with M3? causation is to be possible within the mental domain, there must be an intelligible and motivated answer to this question. But what mental relations could serve this purpose? It is difficult to think of any; I don't think we even know where to begin.

     Consider what space does for physical causation. In the kind of picture envisaged, where a physical thing causally acts on only one of the two objects with identical intrinsic properties, what distinguishes these two objects is their spatial locations. Space provides a principle of individuation of material objects. Pure qualities and causal powers do not. And what enables space to serve this role is the fact that physical objects occupying exactly the same location in space at the same time are one and the same object.6 This is in effect the venerable principle of 'impenetrability of matter', which can be understood as an exclusion principle for space: Material things

6 There is the familiar problem of coincident objects ― e.g. the statue and the bronze. Some claim that although these occupy the same region of space and coincide in many of their properties, they are distinct objects. I must set this problem aside, but it should be noted, though some will dispute this, that coincident objects share the same causal powers, except perhaps those associated with coming into being and going out of existence.





Jaegwon Kim

William Herbert Perry Faunce Professor of Philosophy at Brown University

Ph.D., Princeton University

Office: 210 Gerard House, 54 College St.

Office Phone: (401) 863-2718

E-Mail: Jaegwon_Kim [AT]


Wikipedia entry:

Jaegwon Kim (born 1934 in Daegu, Korea (now in South Korea)) is an American philosopher currently working at Brown University. He is best known for his work on mental causation and the mind-body problem. Key themes in his work include: a rejection of Cartesian metaphysics, the limitations of strict psychophysical identity, supervenience, and the individuation of events. Kim's work on these and other contemporary metaphysical and epistemological issues is well-represented by the papers collected in Supervenience and Mind: Selected Philosophical Essays (1993). 

For More Info, See Wikipedia entry on Jaegwon Kim



The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Mental Causation

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Mental Causation

Wikipedia entry on Problem of Mental Causation 


지금 2009. 06. 16. 화요일. 아침 06시 51분. 맑음. 오늘 새벽 시간 동안 위「심성 인과 Mental Causation」의 요약 설명문을 옮겨 적었다.

콸리아 / 퀄리아 / qualia

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