The deep extent of mental autonomy
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The central aim of this thesis is to argue that the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation presents a stronger constraint on what counts as a satisfactory statement of the relation between the mental and the physical than can be acknowledged within the metaphysical framework of non-reductive physicalism. Although the chief merit of non-reductive physicalism appears to be its ability to respect the irreducibility of mental concepts to physical concepts, whilst respecting the primacy of the physical ontology, I claim that its commitment to the principles of physicalism prevents that framework from being able to accommodate what I will refer to as the deeper extent of the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation. The deeper extent of the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation manifests itself in the fact that the work carried out by mentalistic explanations is completely separate from the work carried out by physicalistic explanations. I claim that the deeper extent of the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation cannot be recognised within a metaphysical framework which claims to recognise the primacy of the physical ontology because recopsing deep autonomy requires giving up the assumption that the mental must be related to the physical in the manner appropriate to discharging such metaphysical principles. I defend the claim that we can recognise the deeper extent of the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation if we take our successful explanatory practices as the starting point of our investigation, and only then revert to the question of how best to articulate the relation between the mental and the physical. My claim is that there is an intrinsic connection between the nature of the mental and the nature of human relationships, and I therefore suggest that the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation ought to be understood in connection with the autonomous nature of human relationships. The basic ideas in this thesis are derived by combining features of Wittgenstein’s rule following considerations with features of John MacMurray’s approach to human relationships. On the basis of this combination, I argue for the more specific claim that there is an intrinsic connection between what it means to say that an individual has the capacity to think and what it means to say that he has the capacity to be involved in various types of human relationships. This connection is then used to develop a non-causal account of human action to challenge the physicalist ’s causal account, which will be used to support the claim that mentalistic explanations are autonomous with respect to physicalistic explanations in the deeper sense. I conclude by arguing that the considerations which put us in position to recognise the deeper extent of the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation ought to constrain our statement of the relation between the mental and the physical, and I suggest that this statement should be consistent with the way in which mentalistic and physicalistic explanations carry out their work in our explanatory practices. I claim that individuals are subject to mentalistic explanations in so far as they have a life to live in the world with other people, and that individuals are subject to physicalistic explanations in so far as human beings are creatures whose life has a natural biological dimension. But rather than identifying the mental with the physical, and thereby compromise the deeper extent of the autonomous nature of mentalistic explanation, I suggest that this relation might be understood in terms of the fact that the mental is embedded in the dimension of human life which is constituted by the involvement of individuals in various types of relationshps with each other, and that the dimension of human life in which physicalistic explanations are operative is presupposed as the causal background which must be in place if individuals are to have such a life to live in the world.