Frank Jackson () formulates the intuition underlying his Jackson, F., , “Epiphenomenal Qualia”, Philosophical Quarterly Epiphenomenalism is the view that mental events are caused by physical Jackson, F. () “Epiphenomenal Qualia”, The Philosophical. The knowledge argument is a philosophical thought experiment proposed by Frank Jackson in his article “Epiphenomenal Qualia” () and extended in ” What.

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Epiphenomenalism is the view that mental events are caused by physical events in the brain, but have no effects upon any physical events. Behavior is caused by muscles that contract upon receiving neural impulses, and neural impulses are generated by input from other neurons or from sense organs.

On the epiphenomenalist view, mental events play no causal role in this process. Huxleywho held the view, compared mental events to a steam whistle that contributes nothing to the work of a locomotive. Ancient theories of the soul gave rise to debates among Aristotle’s successors that have a strong resemblance to some contemporary discussions of the efficacy of mental events Caston, The modern discussion of epiphenomenalism, however, traces back to a 19th century context, in which a dualistic view of mental events was assumed to be correct.

The first part of our discussion — Traditional Arguments — will be phrased in a style that reflects this dualistic presupposition. By contrast, many contemporary discussions work within a background assumption of the preferability of materialist monism.

One might have supposed that this position would have put an end to the need to investigate epiphenomenalism; but, as we shall see under Arguments in the Age of Materialism, such a supposition is far from being the case.

A brief outline of both discussions follows. Many philosophers recognize a distinction between two kinds of mental events. A The first goes by many names, e. Pains, afterimages, and tastes can serve as examples. B Mental events of the second kind are occurrent propositional attitudes, e. Arguments about epiphenomenalism may concern either type of mental event, and it should not be assumed that an argument given for one type can be rephrased without loss for the other.

The two types can often be connected, however, through beliefs that one has one’s qualia.

Thus, if it is held that pains have no physical effects, then one must say either i pains do not cause beliefs that one is in pain, or ii beliefs that one is in pain are epiphenomenal. For, if pains caused beliefs that one is in pain, and the latter had physical effects, then pains would, after all, have effects in the physical world albeit indirectly. But epiphenomenalism says mental events have no effects in the physical world.

The central motivation for epiphenomenalism lies in the premise that anything that can causally contribute to a physical event must itself be a physical event. If a mental event is something other than a physical event, then for it to make any causal contribution of its own in the physical world would require a violation of physical law. Descartes’ interactionist model proposed that nonphysical events could cause small changes in the shape of the pineal gland.

But such nonphysical effects, however slight, would mean that the physical account of motion is false — for that account says that there will be no such change of shape unless there is a physical force that causes it.

One may try to rescue mental efficacy by supposing that whenever there is a mental effect in the physical world there is also a physical force that is a sufficient cause of the effect. This view, however, both offends Occamist principles and fails to satisfy the leading anti-epiphenomenalist intuition, namely, that the mental makes a difference to the physical, i. The view also leads to an epistemological problem: If there is always a sufficient physical cause for whatever a mental event is supposed to produce, then one could never be in a position where one needs to suppose there is anything non-physical at work, and thus there could never be any reason to introduce mental causes into one’s account of neural events or behavior.

Many contemporary thinkers would respond to the central motivation for epiphenomenalism by denying its dualistic presupposition, i. Questions that remain for such physicalistic views will be explained in section 3. For now, it should be noted that the argument stated in the previous two paragraphs is not supposed to be an argument for dualism, but only for adopting epiphenomenalism, once dualism is accepted. This latter fact makes it natural to look for complex events throughout the causal chain leading to behavior; and these can be found in the neural events that are required for the occurrence of simple sensations.


The sensations themselves could not contribute to behavior without first having neural effects that are more complex than themselves.

Frank Jackson, Epiphenomenal qualia – PhilPapers

Thus an anti-epiphenomenalist stance would require us to prefer the hypothesis that simple sensations cause relatively complex neural events over the hypothesis that complex neural events that are required in any case for the causation of sensations are adequate to cause the neural events required for the causation of behavior. Epiphenomenalism is absurd; it is just epophenomenal obvious that our pains, our thoughts, and our feelings make a difference to our evidently physical behavior; it is impossible to believe that all our behavior could be just as it is even if there were no pains, thoughts, or feelings.

Taylor, and subsequent editions, offers a representative statement. This argument is surely the briefest of those against epiphenomenalism, but jacmson may have been more persuasive than any other.

Epiphenomenalists, however, can make the following reply. First, it can never be obvious what causes what. Animated cartoons are full of causal illusions. Falling barometers are regularly followed by storms, but do not cause epiphenmenal.

More generally, a regularity is causal only if it is not explained as a consequence of underlying regularities. It is part of epiphenomenalist theory, however, that the regularities that we observe jacksoj hold between mental events and actions can be explained by underlying regularities.

Schematically, suppose physical event P1 causes both mental event Eiphenomenal and physical successor P2, as in Figure 1. Suppose there is no other cause of M, and no other cause of P2.

Knowledge argument

Then every M will be followed by P2, yet the cause of P2 will be adequately found in P1. Thus, it is true that some of our actions quslia not have occurred, under normal conditions, unless we had had certain mental events.

But this fact cannot show that those actions are caused by our quaila events rather than being caused by the physical causes of those mental events. It is often said that pains cause withdrawals of affected parts of the body. In extreme cases, however — for example in a case of touching a hot stove — it can be observed that the affected part is withdrawn before the pain is felt.

These cases cannot show that pain never causes withdrawals, but they do show that pain is not necessary as a cause of withdrawals. In less extreme cases, it is open to the epiphenomenalist to hold that the causal order is the same as in the extreme cases i. A variant of the obvious absurdity objection is ajckson epiphenomenalism leads to a feeling of loss of self, qualiw a sense that we can no longer regard our epiphenomena as ours.

Epiphenomenalists may, however, reply that whatever sense of loss their view may occasion is common to any view that accepts dependence of our mental lives on the functioning of our brains. For example, merely allowing dualist interactionism would leave us equally dependent on the course of events in our brains.

To avoid that, a nonphysical, efficacious self would not be sufficient: There are, furthermore, reasons stemming from cognitive science that undercut some traditional ideas about the self, whether or not one hews epiphwnomenal a strictly epiphenomenalist view. See Robinson, for discussion, and Pockett, et al. The development of consciousness must be explainable through natural selection. But a property can be selected for only if it has jzckson effect upon organisms’ behavior.

Therefore, consciousness both qualia and intentional states must have effects in behavior, i. Today, this argument is generally associated with Popper and Eccles, It is an old argument, however, and clear statements of it were offered by James and by Romanes in see Romanes, According to the same biology that embraces natural selection, however, behavior has muscular causes, which in turn have neural causes.

Barring neural events that are inexplicably in violation of biological constraints on their conditions epiphenomneal activation, there must be an adequate physical cause of every link in the causal chain leading to behavior. Thus, it is easily understood how certain kinds of neural events can be selected for. Epiphenomenalists hold that conscious events are effects of certain neural jackaon. Thus, it fits well in their view that we have the conscious events we do because the neural causes of these events have been selected for.

Indeed, if neural causes of behavior are selected for, and are sufficient causes, there cannot be qualiaa further effect attributed to natural selection. William James ; ; see also Bradley, offered an intriguing variant of the argument from natural selection.


If pleasure and displeasure have no effects, there would seem to be no reason why we might not abhor the feelings that are caused by activities essential to life, or enjoy the feelings produced by what is detrimental. Thus, if epiphenomenalism or, in James’ own language, automaton-theory were true, the felicitous alignment that generally holds between affective valuation of our feelings and the utility of the activities that generally produce them would require a special explanation.

Yet on epiphenomenalist assumptions, this alignment could not receive a genuine explanation. The felicitous alignment could not be selected for, because if affective valuation had no behavioral effects, misalignment of affective valuation with utility of the causes of the evaluated feelings could not have any behavioral effects either. Epiphenomenalists would simply have to accept a brute and unscientific view of pre-established harmony of affective valuation of feelings and the utility of their causes.

Epiphenomenalists can respond to James’ argument by offering support for the following two views. I There is a distinction between a neural events in sensory systems, which cause feelings, and b neural events in a reward system where an event is a member of a reward system if and only if it contributes to continuance, or repetition in similar circumstances, of any behavior that leads to that event.

Since both a events and b events have neural and, ultimately, behavioral effects, they can be selected for, and so can their combination. The alignment of feelings caused by useful stimuli and pleasure and, by parallel reasoning, alignment of feelings caused by harmful stimuli and displeasure would then follow from alignment of neural events of kinds a and b.

This latter alignment is independently plausilbe. A reward system that can lead to quick decisions and a sensory system that provides discriminations for use in longer term planning would both confer advantages; and these systems would, in general, have to work together in a successful organism.

For fuller discussion of James’ argument, and of the structure of pleasure, see Robinson and b, respectively. Our reason for believing in other minds is inference from behavioral effects to mental event causes. But epiphenomenalism denies such a causal connection.

Epiphenomenalism (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Therefore, epiphenomenalism implies the exceedingly implausible conclusion that we do not know that others have mental events. Jackson,replies to this and several other arguments against epiphenomenalism. The argument is stated, and accepted, quqlia Benecke, The first premise of this argument is a widely held dogma, but it can be denied without absurdity.

It is perfectly obvious to everyone that the bodies of human beings are very much alike in their construction, and it requires no sophisticated reasoning to infer that if others are made like me, they probably hurt when affected like me, e. There is no principle that makes an inference from similar effects to similar causes more secure than an inference from similar causes to similar effects; on the contrary, the latter inference is more secure, because there can sometimes be quite different causes of extremely similar effects.

Thus, an inference to other minds that is allowed by epiphenomenalism must be at least as strong as the inferential route to other minds with which it is incompatible. The most powerful reason for rejecting epiphenomenalism is the view that it is incompatible with knowledge of our own minds — and thus, incompatible with knowing that epiphenomenalism is true. A variant has it that we cannot even succeed in referring to our own minds, if epiphenomenalism is true.

See Bailey for this objection and Robinson for discussion. If these destructive claims can be substantiated, then epiphenomenalists are, at the very least, caught in a practical contradiction, in which they must claim to know, or at least believe, a view which implies that they can have no reason to believe it.

Moreover, unless epiphenomenalists can consistently claim to know their own minds, they cannot offer the response to the other minds objection given in 2.

Many authors give some version of this objection. For a full statement of this argument, and several others concerning epiphenomenalism, see Chalmers, For strong recent versions, see DeBrigard, ; Moore, responded to by Robinson, ; and Moore, The argument that is given to support the destructive claims is that i knowledge of one’s mental events requires that these events cause one’s knowledge, but ii epiphenomenalism denies physical effects of mental events.