Explanatory Exclusion and the Status of Special Scientific Explanations

By Neil Campbell.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Electronic $US5.00

Jaegwon Kim has long defended his principle of explanatory exclusion, which states that there can be no more than a single complete and independent explanation of any one event” (1988, p. 233). He has also argued that the exclusion principle places considerable pressure on the legitimacy of psychological explanation. Since human actions are bodily events they must have physical causes, in which case there seems to be an explanation in physical terms for every action. According to the exclusion principle such physical explanations pre-empt psychological ones, especially when the mental properties appealed to in the latter cannot be reduced to the physical properties operative in the former. The implications of Kim’s argument reach well beyond the limits of the philosophy of mind. Historically it has been thought that all of the “special sciences,” such as psychology, economics and sociology employ concepts that are not reducible to physical concepts. This means that Kim’s argument threatens the legitimacy of explanations offered not only by psychology, but economic and sociological explanations as well. My aim in this paper is to provide a means of blocking Kim’s argument by attacking his assumptions about the epistemology of explaining.

Keywords: Philosophy of Mind, Explanation, Psychology, Sociology, Economics

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.115-124. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.142MB).

Dr. Neil Campbell

Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

My work deals with two central issues in the philosophy of mind. The first explores the problem of consciousness. We are conscious beings, yet we lack an adequate account of how the brain generates consciousness and it seems impossible to explain the subjective character of experience in physical terms. I am particularly interested in what these obstacles to understanding consciousness physically entail about the limits of physicalism—the view that human beings are entirely physical creatures. The second issue is the problem of mental causation. This concerns questions about how thoughts and desires in the mind can result in physical actions involving the body. I am currently working on a book in which I argue that nonreductive versions of physicalism offer a viable account of mental causation without lapsing into a pernicious form of epiphenomenalism. A central part of this project involves distinguishing reason-giving as a distinct species of explanation from causal explanation.

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