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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
Anaximander
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
George Berkeley
Isaiah Berlin
Richard J. Bernstein
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Heraclitus
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
Parmenides
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Protagoras
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
Isabelle Stengers
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Trenton Merricks

Trenton Merricks is a relatively young professor of philosophy and metaphysics at the University of Virginia. He is one of the staunch defenders of mereological nihilism, the idea that there are no composite objects, only "simples" arranged to look like objects. There are "no tables, only simples arranged tablewise," said Peter van Inwagen in his 1990 book Material Beings.

Van Inwagen made an exception for living things, an abstruse argument based on Descartes' idea that humans are thinking beings and "I think, therefore I am (existing?)."

Merricks follows van Inwagen in accepting human organisms as existing objects. But he goes beyond van Inwagen by denying reductionist arguments that the physical world is "causally closed" from the "bottom up."

Merricks adapts the reductionist claims of Jaegwon Kim that say properties in a complex system can be "reduced" to the lower-level properties of the system's components. For example, the laws and properties of chemistry can be reduced to the laws of physics.

More specifically, the properties of molecules can be reduced to those of atoms, the properties of biological cells can be reduced to those of molecules, plants and animals can be reduced to those of cells, and mind can be reduced to neurons in the brain. So far, Merricks agrees, any composite object is reducible to its simples - atoms or whatever the latest physics tells us are the most fundamental material objects.

Merricks' ontology is Kim's ontology.

The most fundamental tenet of physicalism concerns the ontology of the world. It claims that the content of the world is wholly exhausted by matter. Material things are all the things that there are; there is nothing inside the spacetime world that isn't material, and of course there is nothing outside it either. The spacetime world is the whole world, and material things, bits of matter and complex structures made up of bits of matter, are its only inhabitants.
Kim objected to attempts by other philosophers of mind to defend mental causation with a "non-reductive physicalism" and the idea of "top-down" supervening mental events, especially those proposed by Donald Davidson.

Kim is what is known as an "eliminative materialist," a position famously espoused by Daniel Dennett and the Churchlands. The positions of van Inwagen and Merricks are similarly "eliminativist."

Kim argues that mental events are redundant because for every event in a "mind," there must be a corresponding physical event in the brain that is doing the real causal work. Kim calls for "excluding" the mental events, describing them as "overdetermining" actions.

Merricks develops a powerful analogy between Kim's mental events and van Inwagen's non-existing composite objects. His prime example is a baseball breaking a window.

CONSIDER the following argument about an alleged baseball causing atoms arranged windowwise to scatter, or, for ease of exposition, causing 'the shattering of a window'.
(i) The baseball—if it exists—is causally irrelevant to whether its constituent atoms, acting in concert, cause the shattering of the window.

(2) The shattering of the window is caused by those atoms, acting in concert.

(3) The shattering of the window is not overdetermined. Therefore,

(4) If the baseball exists, it does not cause the shattering of the window.

The rest of this chapter will, in one way or another, involve this argument, which I shall call 'the Overdetermination Argument'.

For Merricks, the idea of the composite "baseball" can be excluded as overdetermining the shattering of the window. The analogy is powerful because the baseball is just an idea, just some information about the structure of the object, just its "form," like the form of a statue in the famous metaphysical puzzle of The Statue and the Clay.

The statue cannot survive the squashing of a lump of clay, but the lump can survive. Metaphysicians claim that the lump of clay and the statue have different persistence conditions.

Eliminative materialists deny the causal power of such abstract ideas or "forms." For them, only matter enters into causal relations. Form is separated from matter in many metaphysical puzzles and paradoxes. Form was imagined to be a numerically distinct object by the ancient Skeptics, but such pure ideas in minds are thought unable to move material.

Why Humans Exist
Merricks' argument for the existence of humans goes well beyond that of van Inwagen. It brings up more subtle metaphysical problems and leads to some surprising conclusions, including the fact that humans have free will.

He begins by arguing that Kim's Exclusion Argument does not succeed in denying mental causation in humans! And his own Overdetermination Argument, based originally on Kim's Exclusion, also does not apply, because humans have causal mental properties that cause things that are not caused by our constituent atoms.

Sometimes my deciding to do such and such is what causes the atoms of my arm to move as they do. Presumably my so deciding won't ever be the only cause of their moving. There will also be a cause in terms of microphysics or microbiology, in terms of nerve impulses and the like. But at some point in tracing back the causal origin of my arm's moving (if it is intended), we will reach a cause that is not microphysical, that just is the agent's deciding to do something.

Composite objects that cause things that their parts do not redundantly cause can resist the eliminative sweep of the Overdetermination Argument. We humans—in virtue of causing things by having conscious mental properties—are causally non-redundant. So the Overdetermination Argument fails to show that we do not exist. So I conclude that we do. For we should assume that we exist unless we are shown otherwise. Any conscious composita presumably survive the Overdetermination Argument just as we do. So I conclude that dogs and dolphins, among other animals, exist.

Human organisms do not dodge the Overdetermination Argument on a mere technicality of which baseballs, for example, cannot avail themselves for some intuitively irrelevant reason. Rather, human organisms have non-redundant causal powers and so can exercise downward causation. Baseballs, on the other hand, would not—even if they existed—have nonredundant causal powers or exercise downward causal control over their parts. This deep, fundamental difference between the powers of human organisms and the powers of alleged baseballs (and statues and rocks and stars and so on) makes all the difference with respect to the Overdetermination Argument.

Merricks' defense of free will is straightforward. He denies the thesis that "humans have no choice about what their constituent atoms do or are like." He says that
human persons have downward causal control over their constituent atoms. And surely downward causal control of this sort is sufficient for having a choice about what one's atoms do or are like...

On the assumption that we are human organisms, I have argued that we exercise downward causation...

I say that the downward causal control we exercise over our atoms makes room for our having free will. And, as we saw in the previous section, that same downward causal control undermines the Micro Exclusion Argument for mental epiphenomenalism. I think free will requires mental causation. So I think it bodes well for my metaphysics that its defence of free will turns on the same fact about humans as does its defence of mental causation.

Merricks is correct that we have some downward mental control over some of our atoms, but wrong to suggest any control over what they "are like."

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