Epiphenomenalism and Eliminativism
Merricks (Trenton)
Source: Merricks - Objects and Persons, 2001, Chapter 3
Paper - Abstract

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I argue that anything a baseball causes - if baseballs exist - is also caused by the baseball's atoms working in concert. Moreover, a baseball is 'causally irrelevant' to what its atoms cause. These two claims imply that baseballs, if they existed, would be at best mere overdeterminers of whatever they cause. From this we can draw two conclusions. First, our perceptual reasons for believing in baseballs are no good and whether baseballs exist, just like whether arbitrary sums exist, can be decided only by philosophical argument. Second, there aren't any baseballs. For, we should resist causal overdetermination and assume, unless forced to do otherwise, that effects are not systematically causally overdetermined. Baseballs would systematically causally overdetermine the effects of their constituent atoms. And so, the bias against systematic causal overdetermination gives a positive reason - in addition to those of Ch. 2 - to deny that baseballs exist.

  1. The Causal Principle
  2. Atomic Causation1
  3. Causal Overdetermination
  4. The Moral of the Overdetermination Argument
  5. Conclusion:
    • I suspect that those now convinced that there are no non-living macrophysical objects are inclined to deny that there are human organisms. For they are likely to think that the reasons to eliminate baseballs are equally reasons to eliminate humans.
    • The Overdetermination Argument could not be adapted to humans if humans caused things that their atoms do not. (This would block the application of (2*) of the schema of the Overdetermination Argument to everything a human causes.) The Overdetermination Argument would also cease to threaten us if we exercised ‘downward causal control’ over our atoms. (This would block (1*)’s application to humans.)
    • The next chapter argues, independently of the Overdetermination Argument, that humans cause things that their parts do not. It also argues that, as a result, humans have non-redundant downward causal control over their constituent atoms. So if the arguments of the next chapter succeed, we are safe from the Overdetermination Argument. And in Chapter 5, I'll argue that we are safe from the considerations of Chapter 2.
    • But note that even if (contrary to fact!) the arguments of the next chapter failed, one could still deny that the Overdetermination Argument eliminates human organisms. For one could tollens instead of ponens, concluding that, because we exist, we either cause things not caused by our parts or exercise causal control over our parts.
    • One might accept these claims about a human's causal powers as the price of one's own admission into Being. And one might do so while consistently endorsing the Overdetermination Argument's application to baseballs and statues2. For a metaphysics that attributes these sorts of causal powers to human persons is more plausible than one that attributes such powers to baseballs or statues3. (For more on this point, see Chapter 6's (§III) discussion of free will.) But it would be nice to have independent confirmation of the truth of this ‘top-down’ metaphysics of humans. And we shall have it.

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