Mental Events

Donald Davidson

in Essays on Actions and Events

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199246274
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191715198 | DOI:

Series: The Philosophical Essays of Donald Davidson (5 Volumes)

 Mental Events

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In this essay, arguably the most debated paper in twentieth century, The Philosophy of Mind, Davidson establishes a non‐reductive variant of the identity of the mental and the physical; he does so by reconciling three prima facie inconsistent principles: first, that mental events interact causally with physical ones; second, that all events related as cause and effect fall under strict laws; third, that there are no strict laws on the basis of which mental events can be predicted. Davidson calls the last feature the ‘anomalism’ of the mental, which he defends at length in this essay; he combines it with an ontological bias towards the physical––i.e. while not all events are necessarily mental, they can all be given purely physical explanations––to yield ‘anomalous monism’. Davidson says that claims of identity and causal interaction hold off events regardless of how we describe them, whereas statements of law subsume them under specific (i.e., physical) descriptions (see Essay 7); it follows that if, as the first principle allows, a mental event causes a physical one, then (on the second principle) there is a description of it under which it instantiates a strict law––this description is physical, hence the mental event is identical to a physical one (the paper clarifies early on what warrants calling an event ‘mental’ or ‘physical’). In a short appendix, Davidson defends his analysis of nomological statements against Nelson Goodman's: it is not single predicates that are (or aren’t) intrinsically apt to figure in statements of strict laws but rather pairs of predicates which are (or aren’t) inductively suited to one another. And Davidson's claim in Essay 11 is that ‘mental and physical predicates are not made for one another’ because their respective ascription conditions (which he terms the ‘constitutive ideal of rationality’ and subsumption under strict law) allow at best for contingent, not nomological, generalizations; relatedly, the mental supervenes on the physical in the absence of strict laws correlating them.

Keywords: anomalous monism; antireductionism; causal interaction; constitutive ideal of rationality; event identity; Goodman; identity theory (philosophy of mind); law‐like statements; nomologicality; supervenience

Chapter.  8956 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Mind

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