When is it Mental?
Most philosophical debate over mental causation has been concerned with reconciling commonsense intuitions that there are causal interactions between the mental and the physical with philosophical theories of the nature of the mental that seem to suggest otherwise. My concern is with a different and more practical problem. We often confront some cognitive, affective, or bodily phenomenon, and wonder about its source – its etiology or its underlying causal basis. For instance, you might wonder whether your queasiness due to something you ate, or whether it is just nervousness, or whether your aunt’s memory loss is a neurological problem or a psychological response to trauma. Such questions attempt to localize the causes of a phenomenon at some level in the complex multi-level systems that we human animals are. In this paper I will attempt to tease out the sense of level implicit in such questions, and to show how it is related to current mechanistic accounts of levels. I will argue that the explanation of our practices of level attribution is deeply pragmatic. Such attributions are often attempts to locate the causes of problems, and to identify interventions that could solve those problems.
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