DOI: 10.14704/nq.2010.8.3.330

Why Jaegwon Kim’s Physicalism is Not Near Enough: An Implicit Argument for a non-Cartesian Interactionism (Part I)

David Scharf


Kim’s argument for a minimal physicalism breaks down in two critical places. First, his functional reduction of cognitive/intentional properties fails to do justice to what we mean when we refer to belief, desire and the like, because it fails to account for their referential and normative content. And although Kim believes that he is saving what is distinctive about our cognitive/intentional life, by providing for mental causation in the context of functional reduction, it can be shown that mental causation without autonomy is inadequate, and irredeemably so, as Davidson anticipated. Thus Kim saves mental causation in name only. Although Kim has famously and, I believe, successfully critiqued Davidson’s solution to the problem of mental autonomy in terms of nonreductive physicalism, Kim has never adequately addressed Davidson’s motivation. Second, his minimal physicalism depends on a metaphysically fundamental partition between phenomenal consciousness and cognitive/intentional properties. This idea cannot be made coherent, because consciousness itself is intrinsically cognitive. This second argument will be developed in Part II. In introducing Part I, we will explain a crucial ambiguity in Kim’s principle of the causal closure of the physical. By failing to appreciate the importance of this ambiguity, Kim’s strong version of causal closure, which is anything but innocuous, is misleadingly made to appear so. In effect, Kim’s under-appreciation of the complexity of the closure principle leads him to attack a straw man—in the form of an outmoded conception of immaterial minds—and ignore the possibility of an interactionism involving quantum neuroscience.


Jaegwon Kim; physicalism; supervenience; interactionism; philosophy of mind; functional reduction; eliminative materialism; Donald Davidson; William James

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