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The Causal Theory of Mind and Its Application

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The ‘causal theory’ of mind as defended by Lewis and Armstrong aims at explaining the causal relation between mental representation of certain things and people’s behavior or other forms of physical realization in the external world. In particular, Armstrong is successful in addressing many logical and philosophical problems faced by behaviorists who tried to present mental and behavioral aspects as being inseparable from one another. He has demonstrated that all mental concepts can be formulated on an a priori basis. Then, empirical information on physical manifestation can be added to explain the effects of earlier mental processes. Thus, the input-output model can be reconstructed in functional properties by indicating the logical distinction between mental causes and behavioral effects (Armstrong, 1970). This analysis is further developed by Lewis in his account of ‘mad and Martian pain’. The case of a madman refers to the situation when a common stimulus (that causes pain in all other member of the population) does not cause pain in him. However, Lewis demonstrates that a madman still can be in pain but only when a different factor (untypical for other people) causes it. Alternatively, a Martian may also feel pain, but it can be very different from others in its physical realization (Lewis, 1983). Thus, the same causes and mental reactions as observed in humans lead to very different physical reactions. However, the further analysis, according to Lewis, allows determining that it is pain by examining the reactions of other Martians who belong to the same group. Overall, it appears that Lewis is mostly incorrect in assuming that different requirements of a theory of mind can be integrated in a coherent manner. The reason is that his analysis leads to the implicit transformation from mental causes and behavior effects on an individual basis to some population generalizations that do not lead to the well-supported conclusions.

In the beginning, it is reasonable to outline several key strengths of Lewis’ argument in his analysis of human behavior as well as the functions performed by the examples of ‘mad and Martian pain’. First, he is correct in explaining human (and potentially non-human diversity) in experiencing pain and having other behavioral reactions. He states that people’s assessments of others’ mental state are largely based on the observed similarities and differences between their and those of others’ reactions. If some person demonstrates a very different reaction to a standard stimulus, he/she may be considered as being mad. Moreover, if the deviation from the standard or typical modes of behavior is considerable, this evaluation can be even stronger. In other words, the group tends to demonstrate a negative attitude toward members whose functionalism and behavior representations are different from those expressed by the majority. Second, Lewis properly explains that such serious differences do not mean that those people cannot be analyzed, or their entire behavior is irrational (Lewis, 1983). The ultimate solution is that pain or other reactions can still be activated but with the help of other factors. Moreover, he even assumes of the potential reactions demonstrated by Martians while experiencing pain. Lewis states that people initially may be unable to properly interpret Martians’ feelings and perceptions as their physical manifestations of pain could be very different from those expected by humans. However, he offers an approach to be used in this regard. It is possible to consider the behavior and responses of other Martians and determine the existing cause-and-effect relation between some external causes (inputs), mental processes, and behavior manifestations (outputs). Even although it may appear to very different from the process observed in humans, the comprehension of the causal process may allow adequately understanding Martians even without having any similar mental or physical experience.

While the integration of a priori and a posteriori claims may be helpful for evaluating the behavior and experience of other people (and even Martians), there is a central problem of assessing pain reactions and other behavior manifestations from the patterns and behavior of the majority of a specific population. Although it may be convenient from an empirical perspective to consider the reactions of other humans or Martians, it leads to incorrect and unsupported philosophical conclusions. In particular, Lewis claims that the unique mad Martian cannot be in pain as it is supposed to represent some unique mental state. However, it seems to be incorrect for the following reasons. First, while examining Martians’ behavior reactions, Lewis continues relying on “our” (i.e. human) standards of mental processes and behavior (as he believes it to be “our concept”) (Lewis, 1983). However, madness presupposes significantly deviating from behavior standards expressed by a behavior of other members of the same group. Therefore, Lewis should use Martians’ rather than human standards of pain expression while analyzing the reaction and responses of a mad Martian. If the proper Martian standards are applied, then it can be proved that a mad Martian can exist in just the same manner as a mad human (although their behavior will be different both in relation to their respectful groups and each other). Second, Lewis believes that a mad Martian will be characterized by some hidden state that is not mental (Lewis, 1983). It appears to be incorrect because other Martians are definitely presented as being with some form of mental state (although it is different from human one). It implies that a mad Martian cannot demonstrate non-mental reactions. It will necessarily be mental, but the causes of physical reactions will be different from other Martians. Therefore, the further investigation on the differences between a mad Martian and other Martians may enable making the better supported conclusions.

Another problem observed in Lewis’ analysis results in the absolutization of the comparative approach used while investigating the mental processes and physical manifestation of people or Martians. He seems to believe that the comparison with other member of the same group is the only reliable criterion to be used for assessing “madness” as well as making other implications about the mental or physical characteristics observed. In order to demonstrate the incorrectness of this view, it is possible to imagine some Being X which is different both from humans and Martians. In addition, it is unique in a sense that there are no other known being of the same kind. In this case, the application of Lewis’ traditional approach would not allow making any reliable conclusions or implications about Being X. The reason is that there is no possibility of comparing it to other similar beings and making any implications of its mental processes. It is plausible that Lewis would declare it state as being hidden and non-mental (because this case is even more complicated than a mad Martian). However, the mental nature of Being X’s reactions can be comprehended by observing various factors and its subsequent reactions. Both the factors and physical manifestation can be very different from those expected by humans and Martians, but the recognizable and repeated pattern will still demonstrate the presence of some mental functions that guide Being X’ behavior. Therefore, it can be both comprehended and even predicted to some degree. It implies that Lewis’ initial analysis can be extended to a much higher level, and the causal theory of mind can be applied not only to people from some large and comparatively homogenous groups but also to all other beings (including non-humans).

In conclusion, Lewis’ attempt to arrive at a coherent argument that will integrate all the different requirements from a theory of mind has led to the absolutization of the comparative approach to assessing behavior and physical manifestations. As demonstrated above, it leads to incorrect and contradictory implications. The proper philosophical basis is that offered by Armstrong when empirical data are introduced at a later stage when the preliminary a priori analysis is completed. Thus, the a priori reasoning may enable identifying some recognizable and repeated patterns of behavior that are related to some earlier factors. Even without any other members from the same group, it is possible to imply the presence of some rational functional behavior. On this basis, many cases of “hidden” or “non-mental” states as suggested by Lewis can be properly reclassified with the possibility of the further analysis. At the same time, his insightful examples and the willingness to extend the philosophical examination beyond the traditional limitation of human mind (by including Martians) should be viewed as a helpful contribution because it allows being better prepared to dealing with potential behavior challenges. It also proves that “madness” represents a serious deviation from the expectation and behavior pattern of other member of the same group. However, it does not mean that this member is irrational per se because he also has a set of specific factors that cause physical manifestation that represent pain or other emotions. Overall, the causal theory of mind has a considerable potential for the further progress in elaborating on the relation between mental and behavior aspects.

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The Causal Theory Of Mind And Its Application. (2021, November 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 28, 2021, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-causal-theory-of-mind-and-its-application/
“The Causal Theory Of Mind And Its Application.” GradesFixer, 10 Nov. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-causal-theory-of-mind-and-its-application/
The Causal Theory Of Mind And Its Application. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-causal-theory-of-mind-and-its-application/> [Accessed 28 Nov. 2021].
The Causal Theory Of Mind And Its Application [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Nov 10 [cited 2021 Nov 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-causal-theory-of-mind-and-its-application/
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