Marta Conti Lorenzo (KCL) - 2019-20 Students

Emergence and Causation: Is higher-level causation possible in a purely physical world?

My research project is placed at the intersection of philosophy of mind, metaphysics and philosophy of science. My main aim is to vindicate the possibility of higher-level causation within a physicalist framework. Physicalism is today a prominent view, but reductive physicalist accounts were largely abandoned in the late seventies. This fact fostered new views on the mental and the resurgence of some old ones. One of them is emergentism. Although there is not a unified account of emergence, most emergentists share the following claims: (1) the world is layered into levels, from the most fundamental to the more complex ones, (2) higher-level properties depend on and (3) are to some extent autonomous from their lower-level physical base. Jaegwon Kim is one of the main opponents not only of emergentism but also of nonreductive physicalism. He identifies the latter with the former, and he has used the Exclusion Argument (EA) to undermine both views. The EA concludes that mental and other higher-level properties are causally excluded by their physical realizers because they already do all the causal work. Jessica Wilson’s emergentist theory questions this identification and tries to overcome the EA by appealing to a new view of emergent properties. In her powers-based account, higher-level properties are causally efficacious by having a distinct power profile from their lower-level realizers. Although Wilson’s theory is promising, it faces several objections. The main challenge is that having a distinct causal profile is not what it takes for a higher-level property to be causally autonomous, and if it did, the overdetermination problem would arise. I believe that one of the main problems (although presented as a virtue) of Wilson’s view is that she does not commit to any particular theory of causation. In order to defend Wilson’s view from her critics I will first explore which theory of causation is best suited for this goal. Then I aim to develop a difference-making strategy (based not only on Yablo’s well-known account but also on more recent approaches by Menzie and List) that endows higher-level properties with causal relevance and at the same time avoids overdetermination.

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