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The relation between causality and explanation in emergentist naturalistic theories of cognition

(1995) BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES. 35(1-3). p.287-297
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Abstract
According to the orthodox viewpoint of the cognitive sciences, psychological explanations are generally considered to be causal explanations. The dualistic philosophy underpinning this position, implying a strict separation between the physical and the symbolic, reveals itself as depending on a purely formal view of causality. The current naturalistic theories of meaning and cognition were developed first and foremost on the basis of this formal approach, and aimed at explaining cognitive phenomena and phenomena of meaning as proceeding from physical or material properties. We propose to analyze the relation between causality and explanation in the case of a subgroup of the latter theories, namely those that conceive of the physical and/or biological genesis of meaning and cognition in terms of emergence, and in particular the morphodynamical theory of Jean Petitot. On the basis of arguments from current theories of causal explanation on the one hand, and non-reductive physicalism on the other hand, we show that this emergentist naturalistic approach cannot fulfill the explanatory ambitions it sets forth. Firstly, current causal approaches of explanation imply the idea that contents are 'pre-packaged', and hence assume that there is a basic level of causality. Secondly, nonreductive physicalism shows in what sense the combination of an ontological monism (the belief in a basic level of causality) and an explanatory dualism implies a major paradox. We will show that the attempt to add a causal dimension - i.e., the dimension of the origin of meaning and cognition, viewed as causally determinative - combined with an emergentist conception of the relation between levels, leads to major limitations on the level of explanation.
Keywords
causal explanation, emergentist explanation, nonreductive physicalism, epiphenomenalism, morphodynamics, cognitive science

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Chicago
Van de Vijver, Gertrudis. 1995. “The Relation Between Causality and Explanation in Emergentist Naturalistic Theories of Cognition.” Behavioural Processes 35 (1-3): 287–297.
APA
Van de Vijver, G. (1995). The relation between causality and explanation in emergentist naturalistic theories of cognition. BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES, 35(1-3), 287–297.
Vancouver
1.
Van de Vijver G. The relation between causality and explanation in emergentist naturalistic theories of cognition. BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES. 1995;35(1-3):287–97.
MLA
Van de Vijver, Gertrudis. “The Relation Between Causality and Explanation in Emergentist Naturalistic Theories of Cognition.” BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES 35.1-3 (1995): 287–297. Print.
@article{186954,
  abstract     = {According to the orthodox viewpoint of the cognitive sciences, psychological explanations are generally considered to be causal explanations. The dualistic philosophy underpinning this position, implying a strict separation between the physical and the symbolic, reveals itself as depending on a purely formal view of causality. The current naturalistic theories of meaning and cognition were developed first and foremost on the basis of this formal approach, and aimed at explaining cognitive phenomena and phenomena of meaning as proceeding from physical or material properties. We propose to analyze the relation between causality and explanation in the case of a subgroup of the latter theories, namely those that conceive of the physical and/or biological genesis of meaning and cognition in terms of emergence, and in particular the morphodynamical theory of Jean Petitot. On the basis of arguments from current theories of causal explanation on the one hand, and non-reductive physicalism on the other hand, we show that this emergentist naturalistic approach cannot fulfill the explanatory ambitions it sets forth. Firstly, current causal approaches of explanation imply the idea that contents are 'pre-packaged', and hence assume that there is a basic level of causality. Secondly, nonreductive physicalism shows in what sense the combination of an ontological monism (the belief in a basic level of causality) and an explanatory dualism implies a major paradox. We will show that the attempt to add a causal dimension - i.e., the dimension of the origin of meaning and cognition, viewed as causally determinative - combined with an emergentist conception of the relation between levels, leads to major limitations on the level of explanation.},
  author       = {Van de Vijver, Gertrudis},
  issn         = {0376-6357},
  journal      = {BEHAVIOURAL PROCESSES},
  keywords     = {causal explanation,emergentist explanation,nonreductive physicalism,epiphenomenalism,morphodynamics,cognitive science},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {1-3},
  pages        = {287--297},
  title        = {The relation between causality and explanation in emergentist naturalistic theories of cognition},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/0376-6357(95)00047-X},
  volume       = {35},
  year         = {1995},
}

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