DAVIDSON'S ANOMALOUS MONISM AND THE CHAMPION OF MAUVE
by Ted Honderich
Donald Davidson's monism or identity theory of mind and brain has rightly got a great deal of attention. This has partly been because of the contained idea that the two things, as they seem to be, are only 'anomalously' one thing -- they are not one thing as a matter of nomic or lawlike connection. Putting the matter in a way that some may suppose is contentious, it is an accident that the two things are one thing. That helps to raise the question of whether the theory falls into the disaster of epiphenomenalism -- the 19th Century doctrine that our thoughts and feelings ordinarily conceived are no part at all of the explanations of our actions. My two pieces below, now brought together under a common title, look at the matter. They were the beginning and the end of a philosophical set-to with Peter Smith, a good but Davidsonian fellow. They helped, as did pieces by others, to make the inventor of Anomalous Monism think again -- in his piece 'Thinking Causes' in John Heil & Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation.
Donald Davidson's Anomalous Monism, his engrossing Identity Theory of the mind,1 emerges from reflection on what seems to be a contradiction. The seeming contradiction is a matter of three claims, the first of which is that there are causal connections between physical and mental events. The second is The Principle of the Nomological Character of Causality. Wherever there are causal connections between events, the events are connected by law. The third claim is that there are no psychophysical lawlike connections. We escape the seeming contradiction and get to Anomalous Monism by way of a certain understanding of the second claim.
While causal connection holds between events however described, ‘laws are linguistic; and so events can instantiate laws, and hence be explained or predicted in the light of laws, only as those events are described in one way or another.... the principle of the nomological character of causality must be read carefully: it says that when events are related as cause and effect, they have descriptions that instantiate a law. It does not say that every true singular statement of causality instantiates a law’.2 When E1 and E2 are cause and effect, it does not follow that they are in lawlike connection as E1 and E2 , or under the descriptions 'E1 ' and ‘E2’. The two events may be so connected but need not be.
If a mental
event causes a physical event, they can therefore be in lawlike
connection under other descriptions. Given the third claim, that there
are no psychophysical lawlike connections, any such mental event must
be in lawlike connection under some other description. It
must be so as a physical event. We therefore have an identity.
However, the third claim comes into operation a second time at this
point, and so what we have is a lawless identity. It is not a matter of
law that the mental event is what it is, identical with a physical
event. As the idea of Anomalous Monism is also expressed, on the
assumption that types bring in law, we have token-identity but not
Davidson has elaborated his conception of an event as an irreducible entity, not something to be removed from our ontology. An event, further, has an indefinite number of properties, features or aspects. When I speak of Dora’s fall, I do not in those words fully describe all of that event. It was a fall from the top of the table, during her birthday speech, and so on.3 This conception of events is not necessary to the proposition that causal connection as ordinarily conceived need not entail a lawlike connection in the same terms, but it will be simplest to proceed by way of the given ontology.
Certainly it is true that when I put some pears on the scale, something green and French did cause the pointer to move to the two-pound mark, but there in fact is no entailed law connecting greenness and Frenchness with the pointer’s so moving. There is in fact no law at all connecting the event in virtue of its being of something green and French with the pointer’s moving to the two-pound mark. There is no lawlike connection connecting the first event in virtue of greenness and Frenchness with the second event in virtue of its being thc pointer’s moving to the two-pound mark.
It is to be noticed that we have given clear sense to talk of something’s being such and such as something or other, or under a description. To talk this way is to speak of certain properties of a thing rather than others. To say two things are not in lawlike connection under certain descriptions is to say that certain of their properties are not in lawlike connection, or, perhaps, that the things are not in lawlike connection in virtue of certain of their properties. Perhaps everyone has always understood ‘under a description’, and ‘as’ when it is so used, in this way. So far as I can see, Davidson does not disagree.4 Certainly that lawlike connection holds in virtue of certain properties is not in conflict with the line that ‘laws are linguistic’, understood as it must be. Davidson’s doctrine of the nature of laws5 is not fully developed, but presumably it takes law-like connection to be no more a matter of language than causal connection is made so by the line that ‘causal statements are Iinguistic'.
To return to the event of the pears, there is no denying that it is only certain properties of the event which are relevant to its being the cause it is. Davidson asserts, certainly, as already noted, that the substitution of coextensive descriptions in causal statements does not affect truth value.6 We must distinguish between a cause and the feature we hit upon for describing it.7 All of that, however, is consistent with the truth that neither the greenness nor the Frenchness of the pears was relevant to the event of the pears’ being put on the scale in so far as that event caused the pointer to move to the two-pound mark. So with effect-events. That the scale’s pointer was made in Sheffield is irrelevant to the event of the pointer’s moving to the two-pound mark being the effect in question. John Mackie sets out the fact of causally-relevant properties clearly.8
Is there a difficulty in the idea that it is in virtue of certain of its properties rather than others that an event is the cause it is? Well, the event of the pears’ being put on the scale would not have been the event it was if the pears were not green and French. Thus there would be a barrier to saying that that event would have caused the pointer’s moving to the two-pound mark if the pears had not been green or French. That event would not have occurred. Does that make the pears being green and French causally relevant to the given effect?
It seems to me clear that it does not. Certain conditional connections hold between the weight of the pears and the pointer’s movement, and they do not hold between the greenness or Frenchness of the pears and the pointer’s movement. 9 The greenness and Frenchness were necessary to the event’s being the event it was, but not necessary to the event’s being the cause it was. Certainly it may be said that the cause that there was would not have existed if the pears had not been green and French. That is consistent with the greenness and Frenchness being causally irrelevant to the effect. That we say, as we do, that the cause that there was would not have existed if the pears had not been green and French is owed to a fact of language — roughly the fact that we take the whole for the part — and not to any fact of causal necessity about all properties of the pears. There is no such fact.
To press on, it seems clear that it does follow from the fact that E1 caused E2 in virtue of a property f of E 1 and property g of E2 that E 1 and E2 are in lawlike connection partly or wholly in virtue of properties f and g. If the ground for saying that two events are in some lawlike connection is that they are cause and effect, and it is the case that all of their properties save some residue are irrelevant to their being cause and effect, then they are in the given lawlike connection solely in virtue of that residue of properties. It can be granted not merely that not every true singular statement of causality entails that the events are in lawlike connection under the same descriptions, but also that none does. ‘Something weighing two pounds being put on the scale caused the pointer to move to the two-pound mark’ does not entail that the events are in lawlike connection under the same descriptions.
However, it does follow from any statement that the event of the pears’ being put on the scale caused the pointer to move to the two-pound mark, and the statement that it did so in virtue of only certain properties, that the events were in lawlike connection by way of those properties. We can call this the Principle of the Nomological Character of Causally-Relevant Properties. It is consistent with and indeed required by any tolerable account of causation and is integral to any account which takes causal relations precisely specified to be a species of lawlike relations.’10
If a mental event causes a physical event, what is the causally-relevant property, or what are the causally-relevant properties, of the mental event? In the case of a physical event which is an action, the mental event for Davidson is, very roughly, a belief and an attitude. More generally, mental events are characterized in terms of what Brentano called intentionality, despite certain problems. Any mental event, however, is identical with a physical event. To speak of a mental event is to speak of an event which also has physical properties. To repeat. then, what is causally-relevant with respect to the mental event?
As noted at the beginning, Davidson remarks that causality is a relation between individual events no matter how described. He goes on to remark that his first claim, the principle of causal interaction between the mental and physical, ‘deals with events in extension and is therefore blind to the mental-physical dichotomy’. 11 The first remark, I take it, expresses the truth that we can speak of causal relations between two events however we describe them. In fact we can do better, which is to say we can specify causal relations as holding between the relevant properties of the events. Is the second remark to he taken as denying the proposition that the mental event is a cause in virtue of certain of its properties? If taken in that way, it is surely false. It is not in general mistaken to distinguish causally-relevant properties, and there is no reason to think that mental events are any exception.
Davidson’s account of an action as being caused by a reason, roughly a belief and an attitude, suggests that he takes the mental events in question to be causal as mental. Elsewhere he accepts what can be called the conviction of the efficacy of the mental, ‘the efficacy of thought and purpose in the material world’.12 Again, we have it that Anomalous Monism is not to be confused with ‘nothing-but’ materialism: ‘Conceiving the Art of the Fugiie was nothing but a complex neural event.' 13 One possible answer to our question, then, is that it is as a mental event that a mental event causes a physical event. It is not a mental event as physical that does the work, Such denials of ‘epiphenomenalism’ are of course common.
If it is a mental event as mental that causes a physical event, we have an unhappy upshot as soon as we add the truism that a typical physical event said to be caused by a mental event is an effect as a physical event, If we accept the first two of the claims which issue in Anomalous Monism, along with the idea that the mental as mental causes the physical, and the Principle of the Nomological Character of Causally Relevant Properties, we have the denial of the third claim, that there are no psychophysical lawlike connections. Hence we have a denial of Anomalous Monism. If, on the other hand, we wish to retain the third claim, and accept the idea and the principle just mentioned, we must give up the first claim as we are now understanding it, that there is causal interaction between the mental as mental and the physical.
However, there is also the other possible answer to the question of what is causally-relevant with respect to a mental event. It is the answer that the mental event as physical causes the action. To give this answer is of course to cast a new light on the first claim, that the mental interacts causally with the physical. It becomes the claim that the mental as physical interacts causally with the purely physical. What is important, however, is that the resulting picture seems not to account for a conviction that lies behind acceptance of his first claim when it is naturally understood, as the claim that the mental as mental causes the physical. This is the conviction of the efficacy of the mental, already mentioned. It is the conviction that an event as mental is an ineliminable part of any full explanation of an action. It is the very root of the common denial of various epiphenomenalist doctrines.
Can this picture of the mind somehow be made tolerable? It cannot be done by a means already noticed, one which depends on the idea that an event would not be the cause it is if it were not a mental as well as a physical event. That will not make the mental character of the event causally relevant with respect to the action, and hence safeguard the conviction of mental efficacy. Nor, evidently, can we gain the end by way of the simple fact that an event can be said to be a cause even when it is picked out by way of a description of its causally irrelevant properties.
The doctrine of supervenience,’ 14 so far unmentioned, will come to mind. The picture we then get is this: it is a mental event as physical which causes an action; lawlike connection holds between the mental event as physical and the action, but not between the mental event as mental and that same event as physical; however, since the event as mental supervenes on the event as physical, the event as mental is efficacious with respect to the action. The final claim turns on what supervenience comes to, and what it comes to cannot be lawlike connection between the mental and the physical, and is indeed to be understood as no more than the holding of certain universal material conditionals.’ 15 That is to say that the connection between the mental and the physical is accidental. There is no nomic necessity about the event as physical being the mental event it is. Here, it seems, we do not get the efficacy of the mental.
I have not looked into the question of the truth of the first and third claims out of which Anomalous Monism arises.16 All I have tried to establish is that the three claims, together with the fact of causally-relevant properties, the principle about their nomologica] character, and the conviction of the efficacy of the mental, are bad news for Anomalous Monism.
(2) SMITH AND THE CHAMPION OF MAUVE
by Ted Honderich
As we go through the household of the Champion of Mauve, we notice many things painted mauve. Here a light-switch, there a bottle of gin, here his bedroom slippers. Take the slippers. The Champion of Mauve notes they are splendid slippers — they have the effect of keeping his feet really warm. This is the effect, he more particularly allows, of just the Hibernian fleece with which they are lined. He also allows that their being painted mauve isn’t nomically necessary to their Hibernian fleece, their causal property whose effect is the keeping of his feet really warm. But, he adds, it would be a wonderful confusion to move on from that truth to any underrating of mauve in connection with his warm feet. The slippers with Hibernian fleece are identical with the mauve slippers. So too the light-switch with its effective circuit-breaker is the mauve light-switch. The bottle with the gin in it is the mauve bottle of gin. Let us, he adds, have no confusion about efficacy in these matters either.
Enter Smith — Peter Smith — speaking of the mind and brain. More particularly, he speaks of a man’s noticing of a kipper, his wondering if it is too old, and his intending to eat it. Take the last, says Smith. In this connection, there was a neural event which was a cause of the man’s then eating the kipper. More particularly, there was an event with a neural property, which property was a cause of the action, Of properties of the event, only the neural property was a cause of the action. The event did also have a mental property, that of being our man’s intention to eat the kipper. That property, Smith says, was not nomically necessary to the even having the neural property. But, says Smith, do not fall into the wonderful confusion of underrating the man’s intention to eat the kipper. That intention was a property of an event that was identical with the event that had the neural property. Noticing and wondering about the kipper involve like facts. Do not confusedly suppose, says Smith, that what 1 have said offends against any conviction that we actually have about the efficacy of the mental, any conviction we actually have of the falsehood of epiphenomenalism.
My dispute with Smith, at bottom, is over whether he can distinguish himself in a relevant way from the Champion of Mauve. His 'Anomalous Monism and Epiphenomenaiism: A Reply to Honderich' does not come near to persuading me that he can. He is committed, for all he has said, to an epiphenomalism or denial of the efficacy of the mental which is quite as impossible to accept as the mauvism of the Champion of Mauve.
He offers two speculations as to what I take epiphenomenalism to be. The first is that it is that ‘mental events do not cause physical events at all’. This he understands in a way prefigured above, as follows: there are no events with mental properties, which events somehow cause physical events. But, he says, I have already accepted in setting out the argument under consideration that there are such events. His second speculation is that I take epiphenomenalism to be no more than a central proposition of Anomalous Monism as set out, that an event’s mental property is not in nomological connection with its physical, causal property. This too, as he might have said, was accepted by me in setting out the argument. What he does say is that this proposition does not by itself offend against any conviction we actually have.
Speculation is all right, but reading is better. In the original piece [above] to which Smith is objecting I wrote:
'...there is also the other possible answer to the question of what is causally-relevant with respect to a mental event. It is the answer that the mental event as physical causes the action. To give this answer is of course to cast a new light on the first claim [of Davidson’s Anomalous Monism], that the mental interacts causally with the physicaL It becomes the claim that the mental as physical interracts causally with the purely physical. What is important, however, is that the resulting picture seems not to account for a conviction that lies behind acceptance of his first claim when it is naturally undirstood, as the claim that the mental as mental caues the physical. That is the conviction of the efficacy of the mental, already mentioned. It is the conviction that an event as mental is an ineliminable part of any full explanation of an action. It is the very root of the common denial of epiphenomenalist doctrines'.
My plain statement of what I take the conviction of the efficacy of the mental to be, and hence my understanding of the opposed doctrines, epiphenomenalisms, is repeated and considered in an article (‘Nomological Dualism: Reply to Four Critics’, Inquiry) cited in my first rejoinder to Smith (‘Anomalous Monism: Reply to Smith’).
Smith does alight on a remark of mine in that rejoinder about ‘a mental event to which ordinary belief — but not the Anomalous Monist — assigns...causal connections’. He concludes from ‘but not the Anomalous Monist’ that the epiphenomenalism I find in Anomalous Monism is as he first speculates, the proposition that mental events do not cause physical events at all. My words were a bit careless, but he concludes wrongly, against clear evidence the other way, above all the passage quoted above.
To repeat, Smith rightly says that in setting out a view of the mind I took on board the proposition that there are events with mental properties, which events somehow cause physical events. What I went on to do was to claim that the given view of the mind was epiphenomenalist: it did not make the mental as mental an ineliminable part of the explanation of actions. Was I there contradicting what I had earlier assumed? Obviously not. Rather, I was concluding, as I still do, that the proposition as understood that there are events with mental properties, which events somehow cause physical events, does not suffice to give us the efficacy of the mental as defined. It does not give us the mental itself as explanatory.
To look at Smith’s other speculation, I do indeed suppose that there is a proposition that offends against a conviction we actually have, and that Smith’s view of the mind contains that proposition. It is that mental events as mental are not ineliminable parts of explanations of actions. I do not suppose that we are offended by the proposition in itself that an event’s mental property is not in nomological connection with its physical, causal property. We do require, of course, that something be added to that~ proposition to give us the efficacy of the mental.
That brings us back to the main issue. What is to be added to the given proposition to give us what we want, that the mental as mental is essential to the explanation of actions? Smith’s policy here, in which he persists, is to go on saying that an event which has a mental property is an event which also has a physical property that is causal with respect to an action. It won’t do, and no amount of repetition and emphasis will help. There are many more problems and possibilities in this neighbourhood than have surfaced in this controversy, but it is plain that the so-called identity proposition is of no more use to Smith than is the like proposition to the Champion of Mauve. The Anomalous Monist can be as wedded as he wants to the proposition that of course a mental event in his sense causes a physical event. By way of that truth he is no nearer getting mental efficacy than the Champion of Mauve is to getting mauvish efficacy by going on saying that it is the mauve slippers that keep him really warm.
Smith has another problem, which has the same source. He approaches the matter we have been considering by asking how the Anomalous Monist in general picks out the neural events with which, in his way, he then identifIes mental events. (‘Bad News For Anomalous Monism?’). Take intendings like those of the kipper man imagined above — intendings to eat a kipper. What class of neural events does the Anomalous Monist look to? The answer given is that he looks to neural events that on his view do in virtue of their physicality actually have the causal antecedents and effects that common sense somehow assigns to the intendings, events as mental.
It is important to see what is going on here. The Anomalous Monist starts with a class of mental properties, certain intendings. He then specifies a class of plwsical properties, partly by their behavioural effects. Then, it is said, he ‘identifies’ these two classes. But of course they do not become ‘identical’ by fiat. More precisely, the Anomalous Monist cannot decide that in each instance there is one thing which has a certain mental property and a certain physicat. property. That is so at any rate, to be very brief, if the identity is not a mere matter of classification, as when I say the book is 328 things — the binding, some glue, and 326 pages.
Let us suppose that there really is what there must be if the view is to have a hope, some non-classificatory fact of identity or identity so-called with respect to the class of mental properties and the class of physical properties. So with noticings of kippers, wonderings about them, and so on. (The obscurity of the fact of identity is no doubt one source of the present controversy,) Why do the intendings not sometimes turn up with the kind of neural item which previousiously has gone with the noticings or the wonderings, or, of course, feeling melancholy about Aunt Alberta, or thinking happily of bell-jars, or feeling or thinking anything else? What explains the non-classificatory fact of identity? Until more is said there is a dear answer: nothing. This Anomalous Monism, having denied psychophysical nomic connection, is so far indistinguishable from what we all hoped had been put to rest, which is to say mere psychophysical parallelism. Will this be followed by a revival of Pre-Established Harmony? This Anomalous Monist’s plight is illustrated by the fact that that would be better. It would offer some explanation of the fact in question.
I take it that Smith’s defence of Anomalous Monism against my objection has not been anticipated by anyone else, as he pointed out my objection was anticipated by Frederick Stoutland. If this is so, his defence is bad news for Anomalous Monism.
1. 'Mental Events’, in Donald Davidson, Actions and Events (Oxford: Clarendon, 1980). See also ‘Psychology as Philosophy’ and ‘The Material Mind’ in the same book. 1 am most grateful to Davidson for comments on an earlier draft of this essay, which led me to enlarge it. He is not responsible for the upshot, and it does not have his agreement My thanks too to Colin McGinn.
2. 'Mental Events’, Actions and Events, p. 213
3. ‘The Logical Form of Action Sentences', in Nicholas Rescher, ed., The Logic of Decision and Action (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1967); ‘Events as Particulars', Nous 5, 1971.
4. 'Eternal vs. Ephemeral Events', Nous 5, 1981, Actions and Events, pp. 194-5
5. 'Emeroses by Other Names’, Journal of Philosophy LXIII (1966).
6. ‘'Causal Relations’, Journal of Philosophy, LXIC (1967); Actions and events, p. 152.
7. ‘Causal Relations', op. cit., pp. 155—6; 'Mental Events', op. cit. , 215
8. The Cement of the Universe (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), p. 260. See also Ch. 3.
9. An analysis of causation in terms of certain conditionals is given in my 'Causes and if p, even if x, still q', in the journal Philosophy 1982, but the point in question does not depend on it. There is a fuller analysis in my Determinism: The Mind, Neuroscience and Life-Hopes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).
10. For an account of the latter kind, see the writings cited in footnote 9.
11. 'Mental Events', p. 215.
12. 'Mental Events', pp. 224-5.
13. 'Mental Events', p. 214.
14 'Mental Events', p. 253. See also 'The Material Mind', p. 253.
15 Clarified by Davidson in discussion.
16 For arguments against the third claim in particular, see my ‘Psychophysical Lawlike Connections and Their Problem’ and ‘Nomological Dualism: Reply to Four Critics’, Inquiry 1981, No.3, No.4.
Well, now have a look at Davidson's 'Thinking Causes', mentioned at the start here, and see if his rejoinder to me and my fellow critics works. I don't think so, as was reported in my own piece in the Heil and Mele volume.
'Smith and the Champion of Mauve' was published in the journal Analysis in 1984, and ended several lively exchanges between Peter Smith and myself, beginning with my 'The Argument for Anomalous Monism' in the same journal in 1982.