Philosophy and Science Dialogue: Mental Causation

Thalia Wheatley, Terence Horgan

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This paper is a dialogue between Thalia Wheatley and Terence Horgan. Horgan maintains that philosophy is a broadly empirical discipline, and that philosophical theorizing about how concepts work treats certain intuitions about proper concept-usage as empirical data. He holds that the possibility of strong multiple realizability undermines the psychophysical identity theory. He holds that the concept of causation is governed by implicit contextual parameters, and that this dissolves Kim's problem of "causal exclusion." He holds that the concept of free will is governed by implicit contextual parameters, and that free-will attributions are often true, in typical contexts, even if determinism is true. Thalia Wheatley holds that the concept of multiple realizability hinges on the level of abstraction discussed and that neuroscientific data does not yet support multiple realizability of mental states from specific, high resolution brain states. She also holds that compatibilism redefines the concept of free will in ways that bear little resemblance to the common understanding-that of being free to choose otherwise in the moment. She maintains that this folk understanding is incompatible with the brain as a physical system and is not rescued by concepts of context and capacity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)349-360
Number of pages12
JournalFrontiers of Philosophy in China
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2018


  • causal contextualism
  • causal exclusion
  • determinism
  • free will
  • neuroscience
  • psychophysical identity
  • strong multiple realizability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy


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