The Causal Closure of Physics and Free Will

Robert C. Bishop and Harald Atmanspacher

in The Oxford Handbook of Free Will

Second edition

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780195399691
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 The Causal Closure of Physics and Free Will

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This article focuses on the thesis known as the causal closure (or causal completeness) of physics (CoP)—that all physical events can be fully explained by physical causes governed by the fundamental laws of physics. This thesis raises well-known questions central to free-will debates about the nature and possibility of the “mental causation” of physical events (e.g., beliefs, desires, intentions). If all causes are physical causes, as CoP implies, it would seem that psychological states or events must be fully reducible to physical events or they would be epiphenomenal. The discussion also introduces a notion of “contextual emergence” (according to which lower-level descriptions of events in physical terms contain necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for higher-level descriptions in mental terms) and argues that such a notion of contextual emergence allows one to answer objections to the possibility of mental causation.

Keywords: causal completeness; physical causes; free-will debate; mental causation; psychological states; contextual emergence

Article.  4889 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Philosophy of Science

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