Kim’s Pairing Problem and the Viability of Substance Dualism
Vaught (Jimmy Ray)
Source: Georgia State University Website
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. René Descartes had only recently published his work on substance dualism when a very astute reader of his, Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia, noted a unique problem with Descartes’ idea of substance dualism. If mind and body are really as distinct and separate as the thesis entails, how can they causally interact with one another? Descartes himself, it is commonly alleged, never seemed able to satisfactorily address this issue, and indeed the problem of mind-body causal interaction has continued to plague substance dualism ever since. Still few, if any, have ever been able to explicitly detail what it is about this problem of interaction that seems to imply substance dualism is false. Recently, however, Jaegwon Kim (2001, 2005) has offered explicit arguments for the conclusion that such causal interaction is incoherent. Kim offers a detailed explanation of what the difficulty is in an immaterial event (say a volition) causing a material event (say a bodily movement) to occur. Kim states his argument shows us why substance dualism “is an idea that we cannot make intelligible” (Kim, 2001). Kim calls this objection against substance dualism the “pairing problem” argument.
  2. The purpose of this thesis is firstly to examine Kim’s pairing problem argument and to show that it fails in its attempt to show that interactionist substance dualism is not intelligible. In addition, I will argue that substance dualism is, at least, a viable philosophical option for those who are motivated to believe in it. Nevertheless, it should be noted that it is not my goal to argue that substance dualism is true, or even that it is particularly likely, but rather simply to argue that one should not dismiss substance dualism as a viable option based on the kind of argument Kim. Nonetheless given the scarcity of specific arguments against the possibility of causal interaction in substance dualism, I take my arguments to clear the way for the development of a positive account of such interaction.
  3. Kim insists that the pairing problem argument shows that substance dualism is unintelligible because it cannot offer any kind of causal pairing story either between two mental events or between a mental event and a physical event. For one event X to cause another event Y, there needs to be a causal relationship between them on a metaphysical (ontological) level. However, given that we do not have direct access to this metaphysical level, to understand causal relationships we posit a “pairing relation” to explain why event X causes event Y (rather than some other event). Kim further suggests that every causal relation must have a pairing relation associated with it. To choose the correct pairing relation in a given case we must look for something to explain why the causal events unfold as they do. Kim argues that the only kinds of relations that may explain pairing relations would not intelligibly hold in the case of the interaction between mental events and physical events posited by substance dualism.
  4. Kim believes substance dualism cannot provide a story that is intelligible, because pairing relations are only made comprehensible when the spatiotemporal relations between the relata allow one to pick out that appropriate pairing relation. But minds, by substance dualists’ own lights, have no spatial relations—they are entirely non-extended in space.
  5. Why should one care if substance dualism is viable or not? Kim (2005) himself alludes to one very good reason one should care: it could be one of the few ways in which we can save mental causation1 from being rendered a fiction. Mental causation2, the idea that our thoughts really do cause our actions, is an intuitive idea that few wish to give up. However, as Kim himself notes, physicalistic theories have not been able to offer few, if any, promising ways of saving mental causation3. Moreover, other alternative theories such as property dualism commonly entail epiphenomenalism, and thus this option does not save mental causation4 either. Kim is concerned that this situation will cause some to be tempted by substance dualism, an idea he thinks is unintelligible, and thus he offers the pairing problem argument to try and dissuade others from being tempted by substance dualism in order to save mental causation5. However, if I can show that Kim’s argument fails, and that substance dualism is at least a viable option, then for those wishing to save mental causation6 substance dualism could be one of the few possibilities that offer promise.


MA Thesis; Link (Defunct).

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