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Mental vs. Top-Down Causation: Sic et Non
J.P. Moreland


Many think that top-down causation is essential for preserving the causal efficacy of the mental. Thus, Nancey Murphy claims that top-down causation is crucial for avoiding causal reduction and, accordingly, leaving room for mental causation and responsible agency.

Now it seems to me that the causal efficacy of the self and its various mental states is correct. Indeed, I believe that this is a properly basic belief grounded in (defeasible) knowledge by acquaintance with the self’s and its mental states’ causal activities. But I am not so sanguine about top-down causation, at least when it is located against a certain metaphysical framework to be mentioned below. When properly interpreted, I do not believe there are any clear examples of it, and I think there is a persuasive case against top-down causation.

In order to clarify and defend these claims in this presentation, first, I lay out two preliminary considerations relevant to what follows; second, show why I do not believe alleged examples of top-down causation are convincing in a way that is pertinent to mental causation; third, present a case for why there is no top-down mental causation; fourth, suggest an important option for moving forward in preserving what we all know to be the case—that mental causation is real.

My presentation lasts for about 40 minutes and then it is followed by a response from philosopher Robin Collins.

Note: A version of my presentation appears in the Summer 2013 issue of Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society.

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