Surviving Eliminativism
Merricks (Trenton)
Source: Merricks - Objects and Persons, 2001, Chapter 4
Paper - Abstract

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I argue that we human organisms - though composite - are not mere overdeterminers. We cause, by way of having conscious mental properties, some effects that our constituent atoms do not cause. (My defence of this claim involves considerations regarding supervenience1. I argue that our existing and having conscious mental properties does not supervene2 on the features of, and relations among, our microphysical parts.) Because mental causation3 makes us causally non-redundant, we are not eliminated by the overdetermination argument of Ch. 3.

  1. Step One
  2. Conscious Mental Properties and Premiss (1a)
  3. Objections to the Defense of Premiss (1a)
  4. Step One Again
  5. Step Two
  6. On What Composite Objects Exist
  7. Conclusion:
    • Human organisms do not dodge the Overdetermination Argument on a mere technicality of which baseballs, for example, cannot avail themselves for some intuitively irrelevant reason. Rather, human organisms have non-redundant causal powers and so can exercise downward causation4. Baseballs, on the other hand, would not – even if they existed – have non-redundant causal powers or exercise downward causal control over their parts. This deep, fundamental difference between the powers of human organisms and the powers of alleged baseballs (and statues5 and rocks and stars and so on) makes all the difference with respect to the Overdetermination Argument.
      This chapter raised a couple of issues that it did not adequately address. The first is mental epiphenomenalism. The second revolves around those things a human causes, but does not seem to cause directly by having a conscious mental state. (Imagine, for example, that I am thrown through a window. My atoms seem to shatter the window; I seem to shatter the window; and, as a result, the shattering of the window seems overdetermined.) These issues will be addressed in Chapter 6, where I continue the exploration of mental causation6 and the causal powers of human organisms begun in this chapter.
    • But discussions of our causal influence would be, at best, merely hypothetical if it turned out that we did not really exist. And so, before embarking on such discussions, it is important to show that we are not eliminated. In this chapter I showed that we are not eliminated by the arguments of Chapter 3. In the next I'll show how we survive the arguments of Chapter 2.
    • The arguments of this chapter strengthen those of the former. The arguments of Chapter 3 might have seemed too powerful, eliminating all actual and possible composite physical objects, holding up a standard for existence too lofty for any composite object to meet. But now we see that this is not so. The arguments of the preceding chapter are, it turns out, discriminatory. They give us a reason to deny the existence of some supposed composites but not others. And thus the plausibility of those arguments is increased.

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