The problem of mental causation is a conceptual issue that questions how we should explain actions that are caused by mental states. You have been out shopping all day and become aware that you are hungry and would like to eat a sandwich. You go to a sandwich shop and buy yourself a sandwich. The belief that you are hungry and desire to eat cause your body to move in numerous intricate ways. Mental causation questions discuss how situations like this are possible and how our internal concepts, wants and mental states manage to control our physical actions. Is it really our thoughts, feeling and what we perceive that cause our physical movements? This essay aims to discuss whether physical functionalists are better off than Cartesian dualists when it comes to the problem of mental causation and thus argue that although functionalists are slightly better off than dualists their argument is still inadequate due to over determination.Cartesian dualism is a form of substance dualism. Substance dualism takes the position that there are two complete, distinct and unrelated kinds of substance; material and immaterial.
The idea is that the mind is an immaterial substance that is non-spatial and our physical bodies and physical objects are spatial material substances. The conceivability argument is one of the most significant arguments that is used to support Cartesian dualism and the argument is presented as follows; I can conceive of my mind and body as distinct, therefore it is possible for them to be distinct. Since it is possible for my mind and body to be distinct it is impossible for them to be identical so thus they must, in fact, be distinct. Cartesian dualists such as Descartes (2008) have argued that minds and bodies both play a role in causing physical movements and actions but each of these components can only be understood by itself. However, this causes Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia to criticise the Cartesian dualist approach as she states that it is absurd to think that our mentality can play a part in physical reality when it is in fact set apart from our physical world (Shapiro, L. 2014).
It could be thought that physical states cause these behavioural effects and that mental states are epiphenomenal (Kind, A.). This is a big issue that Cartesian dualists encounter and it is very difficult for them to give a response to this argument allowing us to question it as an adequate theory of mind (Bennet, K. 2007)Moreover, this is not going to be my main point in arguing why Cartesian dualism is poor at explaining mental causation.
Another argument that they face is over determination. This is when more than one cause produces an effect but these causes individually, in the absence of the other cause, would be sufficient in causing that effect (Bennet, K. 2007). Imagine that I am walking into university in the winter and it had snowed the previous evening, the floor is very slippery and I lose my balance, my friend next to me also loses her balance and falls on the floor dragging me down with her. Both of these causes happened simultaneously but me losing my balance would have been a sufficient cause alone as would of my friend dragging me. Hence, they would have both had the same cause in the absence of each other. Applying this to mental causation it would be absurd to think that if there are always distinct and independent physical causes such as mental states and physical states loitering in the background that the physical movements could be so in sync.
It is apparently puzzling that co-ordination of these mental and physical states could both cause the exact same thing constantly. Imagine that two completely individual and non-related chefs are baking a cake, they both make the cake in completely different ways using different ingredients and methods yet they both end up with identical cakes. This is perplexing and doesn’t make sense, so how is it that mental states and physical states can get the same end point? They simply cannot and we must reject over determination so thus, in turn, must reject Cartesian dualism as an argument for mental causation (Kind, A.).
Physicalist functionalism is another argument that is presented in the mind-body problem and it takes the view that we should define mental types as functional types. Each mental type has a causal profile which is typically made up of what its environmental causes are, what its effects are and what its mental effects are. An example of a causal profile for pleasure may be as follows; eating chocolate causes pleasure, pleasure can cause the behavioural effect of smiling and in turn causes the mental effect of the desire to remain in this state of pleasure. Functionalists believe that all mental types are higher levels of functioning and they have underlying realisers which are known as the lower levels state types which must match the causal profile of that mental state. The role of the lower level types is to make the higher-level type real; however, this is not to be confused with causing it (Levin, J. 2017). For example, if we think about a computer and an application, the application cannot be made real unless the computer is switched on and working.
The computer does not cause or make the app, it just realises it. In this analogy, the computer would be classed as the lower-level type and the application would be the higher-level type. In humans, our brain is considered a lower level type that realizes our mental state types. Our mental state types are multiply realizable meaning mental state types can be made real by multiple different lower level types, allowing the state of pleasure to exist in humans and non-humans.Similarly to dualists, functionalists also experience critique when faced with the issue of over determination. The causal argument involves the concept of over determination and makes a forceful argument against functionalism and is as follows: one single effect cannot be caused by two concurrent things because they will exclude each other.
Applying this to functionalism, we know that the lower level brain state realises the higher level mental state of pleasure which causes the behavioural effect of smiling. Surely if this is the case both the lower level type and the higher-level type caused us to smile? How can this be true as we know that it is preposterous to believe that two distinct causes can lead to the exact same effect? If the pleasure causes the smiling then what work is left for the lower level brain state to do and if the lower level brain state causes the smiling then what work is left for the pleasure to do? There is simply none because the lower level and higher-level states exclude each other (Levin, J. 2017). Although, functionalist may object the position I have taken and use the element of compatibility. It might be argued that the relationship between mental and physical causes is closer than two completely distinct causes.
The physical cause realised the mental cause and this relationship defuses over determination as the mental causes are contingent on physical ones. Surely if pleasure is dependent on the lower level state type, the smiling can simply be caused by both.However, this is an inadequate objection. The causal argument doesn’t just disappear when the two causes are recognised as being closely related. The causes are still, in fact, distinct and both mental and physical states are sufficient in explaining causation so the problem of over determination still remains (Bennet, K.
2007.). When functionalists argue that both mental and physical states can cause one effect without it being over determined this suggests that the states are identical. This is one of the key concepts in the identity theory and functionalists disagree with this and thus give a defective and contradictory argument for mental causation. In conclusion, it has been made clear that over determination does not make sense and both functionalists and dualists encounter issues when objecting it.
It is clear that it is easier for functionalists to try and object over determination due to the idea of lower level realisers, although the objection has been shown to be insufficient. For dualists, it is very difficult to attempt to make an adequate response as there are two completely distinct substances, one of which is non-spatial. Dualism has been criticised for this controversial point and how mentality can cause physical effects when it is completely set apart. Therefore, both functionalism and dualism fail to explain mental causation and theories such as the identity theory should be considered as it doesn’t face problems with over determination.