Definition of Physicalism

  • Physicalism is the metaphysical viewpoint that all existing entities and events are not anything more or better than physical events.
  • It holds that mental states and processes are in some way reducible to, or fundamentally identical with, physical processes in the brain.

Types of Physicalism

  • Reductive Physicalism: Maintains that mental states can be fully explained in terms of physical states.
  • Non-reductive Physicalism: Asserts that while mental states might not be reducible to the physical, they are still dependent upon it.

Key Arguments in Favour of Physicalism

Causal Closure of the Physical

  • Principle that every physical effect has a sufficient cause within the physical domain.
  • Supports physicalism by arguing against the possibility of non-physical causes.

Empirical Support

  • Empirical research, such as neuroimaging studies, can often correlate physical brain states with mental experiences.
  • Cognitive neuroscience argues for the physicalist claim that mind resides in the brain.

Key Criticisms and Responses

Knowledge Gap

  • Also known as the Explanatory Gap or Mary’s Room argument, it questions the ability of physicalism to explain subjective experiences.
  • Physicalists respond via Reductive Explanation (all facts about consciousness can be derived from facts about brain function), or accepting an explanatory gap but denying it undermines physicalism.

Mental Causation

  • The issue of how a mind, if it is physical, can cause physical events.
  • Responses include denying mental events cause physical ones, or saying the mental is a different aspect of the physical.

Philosophers associated with Physicalism

  • Jaegwon Kim: Defended a version of reductive physicalism and argued against non-reductive physicalism.
  • David Papineau: Develops and defends a version of physicalism known as “Physicalism, the philosophical thesis that everything is physical”.