A Perspective on the Physicalist Exclusion Argument

Categories: Rogerian Argument

In this paper, I shall explain the three premises and conclusion of the Exclusion Argument supporting Physicalism. I will also evaluate the argument by offering my view of its correctness and implications for free will.

The Physicalist Exclusion Argument is based on three premises. These premises are Downward Causation, Causal Closure, and Exclusion. (Greenberg 2019, pg. 3) By Downward Causation, processes in the mind, such as decision-making, can cause events in the physical world. (Papineau 2004, pg.17) By Causal Closure, each cause for a physical event must be physical in nature.

(Papineau 2009, pg. 54) Finally, by Exclusion, each physical event can be explained by one distinct and individual cause only. (Greenberg 2019, pg. 4) This cause can be a particular set of smaller causes. (Greenberg 2019, pg. 1) If a physical event appears to have multiple independent causes, it is simply a coincidence. (Carruthers 2004, pg. 154)

To illustrate these premises, I will use an example of driving a car. If I think about turning right, causing my hand to turn the steering wheel right, Downward Causation occurs.

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Pressing the gas pedal with a specific amount of force causes my car to accelerate. This is an example of Causal Closure since the physical pedal press activates a physical engine system. Finally, suppose my car is struck in the rear bumper by another car. By Exclusion, this accident has only one cause, consisted of two smaller or lesser causes. One is my car stopping, while the second is the failure of the other car to decelerate. However, if two separate cars strike my rear bumper simultaneously, this would be a coincidence – an exception.

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Combining Downward Causation and Causal Closure means some physical events are caused by both physical and mental processes. (Carruthers 2004, pg. 153) However, this violates Exclusion, as physical events can only have one physical cause. (Greenberg 2019, pg. 4) As a conclusion, this means the mental cause must, in fact, be the physical cause and vice versa. (Carruthers 2004, pg. 153) Hence, Physicalism is correct.

I find the Exclusion Argument to be compelling, and I agree with its conclusion and Downward Causation. When we think about actions or abstract concepts, we usually mentally envision them. If I think about writing the letter J, my neurons would produce J’s shape in my mind. It would not yet exist on the paper. However, I could still visualize its shape and physically reproduce it with my pencil. I could plan what it would look like on paper, and this mental planning shows Downward Causation exists. It would simply not be of non-physical nature.

If the Exclusion Argument is correct, every mental event we ever have is caused by a previous event. (Carruthers pg. 178, 2004) In my perspective, this implies a form of Hard Determinism. A person’s decision-making and thoughts are part of a complex relationship of psychology and neuroscience. Decisions are influenced by necessity and personal preferences, which are influenced by positive and negative life experiences. DNA and biological factors, like hormones, may also cause certain personality traits, thoughts, and mental events. Much of these are arguably beyond our control.

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A Perspective on the Physicalist Exclusion Argument. (2021, Dec 26). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-perspective-on-the-physicalist-exclusion-argument-essay

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