Causal Overdetermination and Kim’s Exclusion Argument

Philosophia 42 (3):809-826 (2014)
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Jaegwon Kim’s influential exclusion argument attempts to demonstrate the inconsistency of nonreductive materialism in the philosophy of mind. Kim’s argument begins by showing that the three main theses of nonreductive materialism, plus two additional considerations, lead to a specific and familiar picture of mental causation. The exclusion argument can succeed only if, as Kim claims, this picture is not one of genuine causal overdetermination. Accordingly, one can resist Kim’s conclusion by denying this claim, maintaining instead that the effects of the mental are always causally overdetermined. I call this strategy the ‘ overdetermination challenge’. One of the main aims of this paper is to show that the overdetermination challenge is the most appropriate response to Kim’s exclusion argument, at least in its latest form. I argue that Kim fails to adequately respond to the overdetermination challenge, thus failing to prevent his opponents from reasonably maintaining that the effects of the mental are always causally overdetermined. Interestingly, this discussion reveals a curious dialectical feature of Kim’s latest response to the overdetermination challenge: if it succeeds, then a new, simpler and more compact version of the exclusion argument is available. While I argue against the consequent of this conditional, thereby also rejecting the antecedent, this dialectical feature should be of interest to philosophers on either side of this debate

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Michael Roche
Idaho State University


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