The Causal Inefficacy of Content



  • Many thanks for comments or discussion to Helen Beebee, Nancy Cartwright, Tim Crane, Keith Hossack, Christopher Hughes, Jaegwon Kim, Fraser MacBride, Cynthia MacDonald, David Papineau, Sydney Shoemaker, Elliott Sober, Robert Templing, Ann Whittle, David Yates and an anonymous referee for Mind & Language.

Department of Philosophy, King’s College, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK.


Abstract:  The paper begins with the assumption that psychological event tokens are identical to or constituted from physical events. It then articulates a familiar apparent problem concerning the causal role of psychological properties. If they do not reduce to physical properties, then either they must be epiphenomenal or any effects they cause must also be caused by physical properties, and hence be overdetermined. It then argues that both epiphenomenalism and over-determinationism are prima facie perfectly reasonable and relatively unproblematic views. The paper proceeds to argue against Kim’s (Kim, 2000, 2005) attempt to articulate a plausible version of reductionism. It is then argued that psychological properties, along with paradigmatically causally efficacious macro-properties, such as toughness, are causally inefficacious in respect of their possessor’s typical effects, because they are insufficiently distinct from those effects. It is finally suggested that the distinction between epiphenomenalism and overdeterminationism may be more terminological than real.