The exclusion problem and counterfactual theories of causation

  • Yee Hang SZE

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Jaegwon Kim famously challenged non-reductive materialism/physicalism (NRM), a popular stance in the philosophy of mind, with the so-called exclusion argument. The argument is alleged to show that if NRM is true, then mental properties cannot be causes. In recent years, there have been many reactions to the exclusion problem based on counterfactual accounts of causation. In particular, List and Menzies gave an interesting response based on a Lewis-style counterfactual theory of causation, with some modifications made to Lewis’s semantics of counterfactuals. In this thesis, I first argue that their central thesis regarding the issue of exclusion can actually be established with Lewis’s original semantics, without modifications. I then clarify the real consequence of List and Menzies’ modification by showing that List and Menzies' modified counterfactual theory, but not Lewis’s original theory, can satisfy Zhong (2014)’s requirement of causal autonomy.

My analysis reveals that, despite Zhong (2014)’s employment of an interventionist theory of causation, it is not any peculiarity with the interventionism that is essential for establishing the possibility of causal autonomy. On the contrary, I argue that the existing semantics for interventionist counterfactuals do not seem to serve Zhong’s purpose particularly well. These considerations suggest that once one decides to use a dependence notion of causation to counter the exclusion argument, a Lewis-style theory of causation is good enough.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Philosophy
SupervisorJiji ZHANG (Supervisor)

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