Eric Marcus, "Rational Causation" (Harvard UP, 2012)


We often explain actions and beliefs by citing the reasons for which they are done or believed. The reason I took off my hat at the funeral was because I was paying respect to the deceased. The reason I believed that taking off my hat was appropriate was because I believed that the deceased deserved respect. So much is part of what is sometimes called the space of reasons and reason-giving - a space that people occupy but objects like apples don't. We can explain an apple's falling because the wind blew strongly, but the explanation doesn't require us to ascribe any reasons to the apple. Acting for reasons is reserved for creatures with minds. But what is the difference in the "because" when we say that I took off my hat because I was paying my respects and that the apple fell because the wind blew? How is this difference to be explained? Eric Marcus, associate professor of philosophy at Auburn University, takes on this complex question in his book Rational Causation (Harvard University Press, 2012). The orthodox answer assimilates rational causation to the same causal picture we use for apples. Marcus challenges the physicalistic framework in which this answer is embedded, and argues for a position that is neither reductive nor dualistic. On his view, rational causation is a kind of difference-making that involves the exercise of special rational abilities. As a result of these abilities, minds make a robust causal difference to what we do and believe that is independent of the way in which minds depend on brains.

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Carrie Figdor

Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.

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