Armstrong's causal theory is another topic-neutral view. It focuses on intentional states and the behavior caused by these states. This view of mental states as concepts allows for the identity theory to be an intelligble theory. Armstrong went along with mental states as concepts bco this result, but believes the theory stands on its own.
The Causal Theory
The form of a causal analysis of a concept: 'the concept of that, whatever it is, which produces certain effects.' Bc the causal analysis focuses on causes and effects, it leaves open the future scientific identification of causes and effects. E.g., in the poison analogy Armstrong uses, it leaves open the possibility that a certain substance may, in the future, be more thoroughly scientifically identified and understood, while poison retains its causal role. Wrt the mind, it leaves open the possibility that mental states will be identified as physical states.
Causal analysis of a mental concept: 'the concept of a mental state essentially involves, and is exhausted by, the concept of a state that is apt to be the cause of certain effects or apt to be the effect of certain causes.' E.g., I have a sensation (or mental state) of thirst. I go look for a drink. The thirst mental state caused my look-for-a-drink behavior.
The thirst example is fairly straightforward. Mental concepts and their causes and effects get a lot more complicated when talking about humans and other higher animals. Mental states often involve other mental states, such as beliefs, desires, purposes, satiation, etc. Actually, even the thirst example gets more complicated in this way. It involves my:
- thirst mental state
- desire for a drink
- belief that there's a diet Coke in the fridge in the kitchen
- going down to get said diet Coke
- perception of said diet Coke
- ceasing to act toward getting a drink once I've enjoyed my diet Coke
Imagine how complicated a larger purpose could get, e.g., getting a degree or having a child.
The different mental concepts, e.g., purposes, beliefs, perceptions, etc., have different causal roles. Above, my purpose was to quench my thirst. But beliefs and perceptions serve as our 'mappings of the world. They are structures within us that model the world beyond the structure.' We use these mappings (beliefs and perceptions) iot achieve our purposes. My beliefs and perceptions re: my environment, i.e., my house, kitchen, fridge, etc., allow me to understand my environment and how I can act so that I won't be thirsty anymore.
So beliefs and perceptions OTOH are logically dependent upon purposes OTOH and vv. This isn't circular, it just means that these concepts occur together or not at all.
Armstrong sees two advantages to the causal theory:
- If the causal theory is correct, then the dualist claim for immateriality is unfounded bc it's based on the unknown nature ('transparency') of the mental factors that cause us to act in certain ways. Under the causal theory, these mental factors are defined ito their causal function, so we don't have to posit immateriality to them. Hmmm, that doesn't sound right.
- The causal theory may explain intentionality of mental states. I'm thinking of something, e.g., an idea, that isn't the case. How is it that I can think of something that doesn't exist/isn't the case? Armstrong uses the idea of 'pointing' to something that doesn't exist/isn't the case. E.g., the vet came Tuesday to check out NoseyCat. He's been losing weight in the last month. Why? Right now, neither I nor our regular vet know why he's losing weight. I may believe that his IBD is getting worse, when in fact his IBD is stable, but now he's hyperthyroid. Or that now he has renal failure. I.e., I could believe one medical condition is the culprit, when further testing and/or a visit to the specialist determines that it's actually another condition (or combo of conditions) that's the problem.
Armstrong notes an objection to the theory: that a causal analysis is not a synonymous translation of mental statements, i.e., that a causal analysis does not translate the mental statement into a statement synonymous with the mental statement without using the relevant mental terms. Amstrong does not get into this objection here, although he does suggest that perhaps synonymous statement translation may be too strict a demand on a conceptual analysis.
The Problem of the Secondary Qualities
Armstrong talks a bit about secondary qualities, the phenomenal qualities such as perceptions (e.g., redness, coldness, a floral odor, etc.), bodily sensations (e.g., itches, pains, etc.) and emotions (e.g., fear, loathing, etc.). Armstrong notes that these secondary qualities may seem problematic for the causal theory bc they are not things 'that, whatever it is, which produces certain effects'. I perceive my car's redness, but the redness is not something which produces any effect in my behavior. What to make of secondary qualities that appear in our mental states?
We can look to how we characterize the intentions of mental states and what is intended. An intention is a mental state, but the intended is not a mental thing. I think about a red tabby cat. My thinking about the cat is a mental state. The cat is not a mental thing, it is the intended object of my thought, and the cat may or may not exist/be the case. Similarly, we can say that a perception is a mental state, but the perceived is not a mental thing. This allows the causal theory to handle secondary qualities. My perception of a red car is a mental state, but the redness that is perceived is not a mental thing, it is a quality of the car, a quality and/or car that may or may exist/be the case.
Sounds good for the causal theory and secondary qualities. But Armstrong notes that even though secondary qualities are kosher wrt the causal theory, they may remain problematic for materialism and physicalism in general. Materialists and physicalists aim to work with theories that work with physicist theories of, eventually, everything. The idea is that materialist/physicalist theories should mesh with the theories and entities posited by physics. But physicists don't deal in colors, sounds and other mental state types that seem fundamental and unanalyzable. However, perhaps this is not the case after all, and materialists/physicalists may be able to posit more fundamental entities to secondary qualities, entities that might be acceptable to physicists' theories.
And I'm going to leave it at that bc I've got some other stuff I want to do before class.