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Alexandra Bradner (2013)

Explanation and Causation

Sketch and background information

The research on explanation is the research
on questions
Explanation: we get it.
What is an explanation? What does it mean to
explain something?
Is there a specific feeling concerning
Is there a phenomenology regarding
Alison Gopnik: Explanation as orgasm
Plato: the explanation of understanding
The connection between explanation and understanding
Explanation vs. Understanding ( Natural sciences vs. Hermeneutics)
What is the criterion of understanding?
Plato: Formulating a true belief which is acceptable for an interlocutor
The relationship between undertsanding and knowledge
Aristotle: I understand something if I know the four causes of it (see below)
(I understand something if I can tell it with my own words)
What is the origin of understanding? Plato: what people can offer to each
other (i.e. philosophical dialogues improves understanding) Aristotle: From
observation of the world
Plato: the example of understanding the concept of virtue (you must have
the concept prior to the examples)
Aristotles four causes
The four styles or modes of explanation:
1. Material cause (Socrates: flesh and blood)
2. Efficient cause (Socrates: his parents)
3. Formal cause (the shape of a statue of Socrates)
4. Final cause (the state where he would end up, the end
state of his development). Two other examples of
teleological reasoning within the sciences: (a) history (b)
the teleological understanding of actions in infancy (Gergely
et al.) Why did the chicken cross the road? In order to be on
the other side. It wanted to be on the other side.
(Mentalisation in explanation.)
David Hume (1711-1776)
Descartes influence: certainty: We do have
privileged access to the contents of our mind
The role of sense impressions in the formation of
the mind
Classic empiricism
The problem of induction
We form ideas from our sense impressions
The science of mind
The role of associations in mental life
Albert Michotte (1881-1965)
The philosophy of experience
meaning can be directly experienced (p.
The famous notion of perceptual meaning
In direct contrast to Hume, Michotte claims that
we do receive a direct impression of causality.
(p. 123.)
Experimental phenomenology rather than the
method of introspection
David Lewis (1941-2001)
The philosophy of modality (i.e. on the notions of possibility,
impossibility, necessity and contingency)
The counterfactual (conditional) approach to causation: The
ice on the road caused the traffic accident. If there had not
been any ice on the road, the traffic accident would not have
happened. (Hoerl et al. 2011)
The famous notion of possible worlds
What is the relationship between understanding causation
and the imagination?
You have to imagine the counterfactual situation
Possible worlds exist in our imagination
Alison Gopnik
Astington and Gopnik (1988): The unexpected content task and its self version
Gopnik and Astington (1991): The state of the art on theory of mind
Gopnik (1993) How we know our minds: The illusion of first-person knowledge of
Gopnik and Wellman (1992/1994) The theory theory
Gopnik (1996) Against modularity
Gopnik and Meltzoff (1997) Words, thoughts and theories.
Gopnik: Two recent popular books on the development of infants
Gopnik: Recent papers and an edited book on causal learning and the so-called
interventionist theory of causation as opposed to the transmission account of
causation: Cause is understood in terms of possible interventions, rather than actual
connections. (p. 125)
, Gopnik suggests that we must actively theorize to grasp causal connections.
(p. 125)
David Hume again
Hume wanted to do for moral philosophy what Newton had done for natural philosophy. (Hergenhahn, p. 144.)
The role of experience in the formation of the contents of the mind
Impressions and ideas
Simple and complex ideas and the imagination
The imagination works in order to rearrange the ideas in the mind
The association of ideas: (1) law of resemblance
(2) law of contiguity
(3) law of cause and effect (the most
important law of association)

Causation is a psychological experience and not a logical necessity.

Thus, it is on the basis of consistent observations that causal inferences are drawn. Predictions based on such observations assume that what
happened in the past will continue to happen in the future, but there is no guarantee of that being the case. What we operate with is the belief
that relationships observed in the past will continue to exist in the future, and such a belief is accepted on faith alone. (Hergenhahn, p. 147.)

The question of the relationship between association and inference

Inference and propositions
Hume (cont.)
When we see causation we do not discover the hidden connection between cause and
effect. (I.e. we cannot see the secret connection between cause and effect.) (E.g.
turning on the light in a room, or the Humean case of flame and heat. But there are
cases in which we clearly see the cause of a causal event, see the Gopnikian example
when we see that the rain caused the front yards becoming wet.) (So the paradox
between the Michottean and Humean view of causation can be resolved that we can
list examples for the both contradictory views. )
What is the necessary connection between cause and effect?
1. The cause and effect must be contiguous in space and time.
2. The cause must be prior to the effect.
3. There must be a constant union betwixt the cause and effect. It is chiefly this quality
that constitutes the relation.
4. The same cause always produces the same effect, and the same effect never arises
but from the same cause. (Flew, 1962, p. 216. as cited by Hergenhahn (2009, p. 147.)
Descartes (1596-1650)
How can souls move bodies?
The distinction between the mental and the physical
and the problem of causal interaction between the
, how a physical body can interact with a
nonphysical mind (p. 203. in our compulsary book).
This is the so-called interaction problem.
, Descartes suggests that a rational explanation for
how body and mind interact may not be available
(p. 203.)
Correspondence between princess Elisabeth
of Bohemia and Descartes
How can the soul bring about voluntary actions?
The problem of physical contact within the interaction problem.
Descartes: the soul , being united to the body, it can act on and be acted
upon by it (p. 204).
The soul has the power (force) to move the body.
The theory of primitive notions: we build our knowledge upon them. (Cf.
Present-day conceptual primitives, like objects or belief.)
Descartes: general primitive notions (being, number, durations) vs. primitive
for the body: extension; for the soul: thought which includes understanding
and will; for the soul and the body: their union. It is not entirely clear whether
these Cartesian primitive notions are common-sensical or philosophical
Descartes: , for being primitive, each of them can be understood only
through itself. ( p. 204.)
Correspondence (cont.)
Elisabeth: how the soul (nonextended and immaterial) can move
the body; (p. 205.)
Elisabeth: the soul an immaterial thing as anything other than a
negation of matter which cannot have any communication with it.
(p. 205.) (The soul as an immaterial substance.)
Descartes: the soul moves the body and the body acts on the
soul. (p. 206.)
Descartes: we learn to conceive the union of the soul and the
body. (p. 206.)
It is a contradiction to say that the soul and the body are distinct
and that they are united (i.e. one thing).
the soul is a substance distinct from body. (p. 206.)
Alison Gopnik and Henry M. Wellman
(1992) Why the childs theory of mind really
is a theory
The problem of folk psychology: How do
children (and indeed adults) understand the
mind? (p. 252)
Synonyms of folk psychology: intuitive
psychology, everyday psychology, naive theory
of mind, belief-desire psychology, mindreading,
empathy, social cognition, common-sense
psychology, mentalisation
The theory theory
The problem of the format of knowledge: e.g. schemas, scripts,
typologies, modules etc.
The main characteristics of theories: (1) abstractness (theoretical
constructs are not observable), (2) coherence ( The theoretical entities
and terms postulated by a theory are closely, lawfully interrrelated with
one another. p. 253), (3) they make explanation and prediction possible.
The dynamic nature of theories: defeasibility (theories change) ; the
important role of the accumulation of counter-evidence to the theory.
What are the four main processes behind theory change: (1) ignorance or
denial of counter-evidence, (2) the postulation of auxiliary hypotheses, (3)
usage of the new theoretical constructs in limited contexts, (4)
reorganisation of knowledge in order to accept the new theory.
The 2-year-old theory
Theory of mind in infancy: infants are mentalist
rather than behaviorist; Onishi and Baillargeon
(2005): representational understanding of mind at 15
month of age
In contrast to this: Understanding of perception and
desire in a non-representatinal way: the present-day
paradox concerning the representational
understanding of mental states
In sum, there is a so-called desire-perception
psychology at the age of two.
The practical syllogism

If an agent desires X, and sees it exists, he will

do things to get it.
Even that form of the practical syllogism is a
powerful inferential folk psychological law. (p.
The 3-year-old theory
Natural language data: Cognitive terms (e.g. think, know,
remember, make-believe, dream) appear at this age.
The understanding of belief in a non-representational way (copy
theory, Gibsonian theory, situation theory, cognitive connection
What is the relationship between the infants representational
understanding of the mind and these later non-representational
achievements? In other words, can we still conceive the early
understanding of certain mental states (desire, perception, belief)
in non-representational way?
The failure on various verbal explicit false belief tasks.
Mental representation exists only as an auxiliary hypothesis.
The 5-year-old view
Passing the famous false belief test.
The so-called representational model of mind.
Understanding of propositional attitudes and
propositional contents.
Perner (1991) Understanding the
representational mind.
The earlier non-representational theory of
mind is replaced by a new view of the mind.
Theory theory vs. Simulation theory
Simulation theory: The child uses her own mind as a model in
order to understand and predict the others behaviour. The
distinction between phenomenological understanding and
Historical roots: the so-called analogical solution of the other mind
problem .
Cf. Meltzoff and Gopniks like me hypothesis
The crucial role of introspection in the simulation process.
Gopnik and Wellmans arguments against simulation: Why is there
any difference between the reading off different mental states (i.e.
between perception and belief and between desire and belief.)
Emily Esch and Joshua Weisberg
Introduction to Consciousness
Thomas Huxley: How can consciousness emerge
from neural stuff?
The certainty of our first-person access to our
conscious states. Cf. The so-called infallible inner
Physicalism: all things, conscious minds included,
are ultimately physical in nature. (p. 280.)
The problem of qualia. (The taste of a glass of wine
or seeing of the redness of a flower.)
The difference between conscious mental states and physical states.
Descartes again: mental substance vs. physical substance. (This is called
substance dualism.)
The problem of interaction (see above).
Descartes: The transparency thesis. We have only conscious mental states
that are directly available for us. Cf. the notion of privileged acces to our
own mental states.
Descartes: The reflection thesis. , each of our thouhgts includes the
first-person perspective. That is, our thoughts automatically involve
reference to the self. (p. 282.) Cf. the famous Cogito, ergo sum argument.
(I am thinking, therefore I exist. ) Since every thought includes the I,
each time I have a thought , I can know that I currently exist. (p. 282.) Cf.
the ontogenetic development of self-awareness in children.
This position rejects the commonsense belief that
mental states cause behaviour.
Unlike the interactionism of Descartes,
epiphenomenalists claim that the causation works
in only one direction from body to mind. (p.
283.) So, the doctrine denies mental causation.
The example of Thomas Huxley: the role of the
steam-whistle in the movement of a locomotive
Phenomenal consciousness
Cf. Nagel: What is it like to be a bat?
The problem of qualia again.
The so-called explanatory gap: The explanatory gap is the gap between our
understanding of the physical brain processes and our understanding of the nature of
consciousness. (p. 282.)
If there really is phenomenal consciousness , physicalism might be in trouble. (p.
David Chalmers: The hard problem of explaining consciousness.
No matter how much we learn about how the physical brain works, we still will not
have an explanation of why some of our brain states are phenomenally conscious. (p.
Patricia Churchlands criticism of the hard problem.
The question of folk psychology: , do the folk really possess a concept of
phenomenal consciousness ? (p. 287.) This is a contested issue.
Against the Cartesian transparancy thesis:
Blindsight subjects visually perceive their
targets ( this allows them to guess above
chance), but there is nothing its like for them
to perceive in this way their visual
perceptions are not conscious. (p. 286.)
In other words, this is seeing without
phenomenal consciousness. The feel of
seeing, the qualia is missing in these patients.
David Chalmers: The puzzle of conscious
Important questions concerning conscious
experience: Why does it exist? What does it do?
How could it possible arise from neural processes
in the brain? (p. 303.)
What is the function of consciousness?
Reductionist theories: Neuroscience and
psychology can explain consciousness.
The view of mysterians: We will never
understand consciousness.
The easy problems of consciousness

How can a human subject discriminate

sensory stimuli and react to them
How does the brain integrate information
from many different sources and use this
information to contol behavior.
How is it that subjects can verbalise their
internal states? (p. 303)
The hard problem of consciousness
The hard problem, in contrast, is the question of how
physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective
experience. This puzzle involves the inner aspect of
thought and perception: the way things feel for the
subject. (p.304)
Why do we have any experience at all? (p. 304)
Joseph Levine: the so-called explanatory gap exists
between physical processes and consciousness.
, I propose that conscious experience be considered a
fundamental feature, irreducible to anything more basic.
(p. 306) The autonomy of consciousness.
Patricia Churchland: The Hornswoggle
Thomas Nagel again: Consciouness is what
makes the mind-body problem really
intractable. (p. 309)
Patricia Churchland against the hard problem:
Although I agree that consciousness is
certainly a difficult problem, difficulty per se
does not distinguish it from oodles of other
neuroscientific problems. (p. 310)
The easy problems according to
the nature of short-term memory, long-term memory, autobiographical memory, the
nature of representation, the nature of sensory motor integration, top-down effects in
perception not to mention such capacities as attention, depth perception, intellligent eye
movement, skill acquisition, planning, decision-making, and so forth. (p. 310)
What exactly is the evidence that we could explain all the Easy phenomena and still not
understand the neural mechanisms for consciousness. ( Call this the left-out
hypothesis.) (p. 310). Churchland rejects this hypothesis.
There is a close relationship between attention and awareness.
the nature of consciousness is an empirical problem, (p. 310)
Do eye-movements have eye-movement qualia? Some maybe do, and some maybe do
not. Are there introspective qualia, or is introspection just paying attention to perceptual
qualia and talking to yourself? (p. 311.)
If I understand Churchland correctly she says that all of the easy problems themselves
are connected to consciousness. In other words, Chalmers is wrong when he supposes
that there is a separate autonom awareness in addition to all of these.
The argument from ignorance
They reinforce the message of the argument from
ignorance: from the vantage point of ignorance, it is often
very difficult to tell which problem is harder, which will fall
first, what problem will turn out to be more tractable than
some other. (p. 315)
To sum up, Churchland rejects the hard problem of
consciousness proposed by Chalmers on the ground that the
alleged easy problems are all related to consciousness
too. So, there is no a monolithic entity called awareness. In
fact, Churchland denies the distinction between the easy
and the hard problems of consciousness.
Emily Esch: Introduction to Persons and the
Four important aspects of the self: (1) agency; (2) personality; (3)
higher level awareness; (4) unity
Agency: to initiate and perform actions; and to be responsible for
Personality traits: what makes individuals unique. (p. 384)
Awareness of our mental states and actions makes it possible to
form a concept of the self.
The connection between past, present and future selves is called
diachronic unity. (p.384) Synchronic unity: all the various
experiences that occur at a time are occuring to the same subject.
(p. 384) The various experiences are unified in a single subject
the self.
The problem of personal identity
Diachronic unity corresponds to the problem of personal identity.
There is a more general problem of identity.
The famous thouhgt experiment of Thomas Hobbes: The ship of Theseus.
The concept of numerical identity: Numerical identity is the relation that each
object bears to itself that makes it one and the same thing. Numerical identity is a
one-to-one relation; this is why Hobbes claims that it is absurd that two distinct
ships are numerically identical to the original ship. (p. 385)
Qualitative identity: two things are qualitatively identical if and only if they share all
the same properties. (p. 385)
Essential properties are those properties that, if lost, will cause the thing that had
them to cease to exist. Accidental properties are those properties that a thing can
lose without ceasing to exist. (p. 385)
what properties are essential to an individual person and what properties are
merely accidental? (p. 386) This is a very good question and one possible answer is
that the essential property of a person is her soul.
The Ego Theory
Descartes again: But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that?
A thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, is willing, is unwilling,
and also imagines and has sensory perceptions. (Cited by Esch on p.
First, he draws a distinction between the thing that does the thinking
and the thouhgts themselves. Second, Descartes identifies himself as
the thing that does the thinking. (p. 386) This is the Ego Theory.
Galen Strawson: [The ordinary, human sense of the self] is the sense
that people have of themselves as being, specifically, a mental
presence; a mental someone; a single mental thing, that is a conscious
subject of experience. (Cited by Esch on p. 386)
Look at the implications of this to the development of the self, the
concept of the self and agency.
Hume on the self
His well-known empiricism: all knowledge is based in sense
experience. (p. 388) Concepts derive from impressions which are
sensations from the external world.
Hume could never find an impression of a simple, single ego.
Instead of an ego, Hume finds only the mental states
(perceptions, beliefs, memories, etc.) themselves. (p. 388)
The fact that he never perceives the self, but only various mental
states, leads Hume to propose what has come to be known as the
Bundle Theory of personal identity. According to the Bundle
Theory, there is no single self underlying all our mental states.
Rather, selves are long trains of mental states that are connected
by a variety of causal relations. (p. 388)
Derek Parfit against the Ego Theory
Parfit argues that the behavior of the split-brain
patients provides compelling evidence against
the Ego Theory, since it seems that these
patients have at least two distinct streams of
consciousness during the experiments. If this
interpretation is correct, then it seems to
support the belief that there is no single subject
underlying all of our experiences , even in those
whose corpus callosum remains intact. (p. 389)
Paul Bloom: The First Person Plural
Paul Bloom focuses his attention on David Humes analogy of the self as
a republic, with the various members fighting for attention and control. (p.
Hume states, I cannot compare the soul more properly to any thing than
to a republic or commonwealth, in which the several members are united
by the reciprocal ties of goverment and subordination. (Cited by Esch on p.
389) Notice that Hume speaks about the soul here rather than the self.
Bloom: each person consists of multiple selves. (p. 389. )
The idea that we are composed of many selves is metaphorically
appealing, but there may be good conceptual reasons for reserving the
concept self for the kinds of thing that exhibit the four features (agency,
personality, higher order awareness and unity) mentioned at the beginning
of the chapter. (p. 390)
Bloom (cont.)
This view, that persons are composed of multiple
selves competing among one another for
dominance, is becoming more popular as we learn
more about the brain and human behavior. (p. 390)
As Bloom himself notes, our social structures and
personal relationships depend on our belief in the
continuity of persons: marriages, contracts,
friendships, and legal systems, are all based on the
assumption that people remain the same over time.
(p. 390)
Thomas Reid (1710- 1796)
The famous commonsense school within
The commonsense school argued that there
are a number of common principles that we
are justified in believing without providing
evidence of their truth and that these common
principles provide an epistemological
foundation for science and ordinary
reasoning. (p. 401)
Reid (cont.)
Below is one of Reids most famous objections to Lockes theory of
personal identity, known as the Brave Officer paradox, in which a
general remembers stealing a flag as a soldier, when stealing the flag
the soldier remembers being flogged as a boy, but the general has no
memory of being flogged. Reid points out that this thought
experiment demonstrates a troubling consequence of Lockes
account, which holds that the boy is identical to the soldier, the
soldier is identical to the general, but the boy is not identical to the
general. In addition to violating many peoples intuitions, this violates
the law of transitivity, which states that if a=b and b=c, then a=c. (p.
This is a wonderfull piece of controversy between Locke and Reid and
it is really very difficult to tell who is right.
Reid (cont.)
Hence we may infer, that identity cannot , in its
proper sense, be applied to our pains, our pleasures,
our thouhgt, or any operation of our minds. The
pain felt this day is not the same individual pain
which I felt yesterday, though they may be similar in
kind and degree, and have the same cause. The
same may be said of every feeling, and of every
operation of mind. They are all successive in their
nature, like time itself, no two moments of which
can be the same moment. (p. 402)
Reid (cont.)
The identity of a person is a perfect identity:
wherever it is real, it admits of no degrees;
and it is impossible that a person should be in
part the same, and in part different; because a
person is a monad, and is not divisible into
parts. (p. 403)