The Other Explanatory Gap


One of the driving questions in philosophy of mind is whether a person can be understood in purely physical terms. In this presentation, I wish to continue the project initiated by Donald Davidson, whose subtle position on this question has left many more perplexed than enlightened. The main reason for this perplexity is Davidson’s rather obscure pronouncements about the normativity of intentionality and its role in supporting psychophysical anomalism – the claim that there are no laws bridging our intentional states with states of our brain. Insofar as Davidson’s thesis is an ontological one – about the existence of laws or otherwise modally significant connections between the mental and the physical – I think his critics are correct: Davidson has not provided us with a successful argument for psychophysical anomalism. There is, however, a different argument, also based upon considerations about the normativity of intentionality that lead to an equally important conclusion. The conclusion is not ontological but rather epistemic: if thoughts do indeed display normativity, it is hard to understand how they would arise out of mere mechanical occurrences in the brain. To borrow a well-worn phrase, there is an “explanatory gap” between the mental and the physical. Originally coined to capture the epistemic darkness we confront in our attempt to understand phenomenal experiences in purely physical terms, the idea has yet to be explored in the area of contentful mental states or intentionality in general. My argument shall be this: considerations about the normativity of intentionality demonstrate that there is an explanatory gap between the intentional and the physical. In fact, if there were laws of the kind Davidson denies, then the world be more mysterious than if no such laws existed. The presence of an explanatory gap explains why this is so.


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