Vol. 13, No. 1–2, January/February 2006

Edited by Michael Pauen, Alexander Staudacher and Sven Walter

Refereed Paper

The Editors  full text
Epiphenomenalism: Dead End or Way Out?
William Seager  abstract
Emergence, Epiphenomenalism and Consciousness
Brian P. McLaughlin  abstract
Is Role-Functionalism committed to Epiphenomenalism?
Sven Walter  abstract
Causal Exclusion as an Argument Against Non-Reductive Physicalism
William S. Robinson  abstract
Knowing Epiphenomena
Volker Gadenne  abstract
In Defence of Qualia-Epiphenomenalism
Dieter Birnbacher  abstract
Causal Interpretations of Correlations Between Neural and Conscious Events
Michael Pauen  abstract
Feeling Causes
Alexander Staudacher  abstract
Epistemological Objections to Qualia-Epiphenomenalism

Conference Report

Wolfgang Baer  full text
Amazing Light — Visions for Discovery

Book Reviews  full text

Anton Lethin
Ralph Ellis, Curious Emotions
Claire McNiven
Jenefer Robinson, Deeper Than Reason
Natika Newton
Shaun Gallagher, How the Body Shapes the Mind
Anthony Freeman
Chris Nunn, De La Mettrie’s Ghost: The Story of Decisions


Dieter Birnbacher

Causal Interpretations of Correlations between Neural and Conscious Events

Abstract: The contribution argues that causal interpretations of empirical correlations between neural and conscious events are meaningful even if not fully verifiable and that there are reasons in favour of an epiphenomenalist construction of psychophysical causality. It is suggested that an account of causality can be given that makes interactionism, epiphenomenalism and Leibnizian parallelism semantically distinct interpretations of the phenomena. Though neuroscience cannot strictly prove or rule out any one of these interpretations it can be argued that methodological principles favour a causal interpretation on epiphenomenalist lines, both for reasons of metaphysical parsimony and for reasons of coherence with established physical principles such as the conservation of energy. In the concluding chapter, some of the philosophical and the empirical challenges following from this model are outlined, the most important being closer scrutiny of the neurophysiological processes accompanying conscious volition.

Correspondence: Dieter Birnbacher, Philosophisches Institut, Universitätsstr. 1 Geb. 23.21/04.75, D-40225 Düsseldorf, Germany.

Volker Gadenne

In Defence of Qualia-epiphenomenalism

Abstract: Epiphenomenalism has been criticized with several objections. It has been argued that epiphenomenalism is incompatible with the alleged causal relevance of mental states, and that it renders knowledge of our own conscious states impossible. In this article, it is demonstrated that qualia-epiphenomenalism follows from some well- founded assumptions, and that it meets the cited objections. Though not free from difficulties, it is at least superior to its main competitors, namely, physicalism and interactionism.

Correspondence: Volker Gadenne, Department of Philosophy and Theory of Science, Johannes-Kepler-University Linz, A-4040 Linz-Auhof, Austria.

Brian P. McLaughlin

Is Role-Functionalism Committed to Epiphenomenalism?

Abstract: Role-functionalism for mental events attempts to avoid epiphenomenalism without psychophysical identities. The paper addresses the question of whether it can succeed. It is argued that there is considerable reason to believe it cannot avoid epiphenomenalism, and that if it cannot, then it is untenable. It is pointed out, however, that even if role-functionalism is indeed an untenable theory of mental events, a role-functionalism account of mental dispositions has some intuitive plausibility.

Correspondence: Brian P. McLaughlin, Dept. of Philosophy, Rutgers University, 26 Nichol Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1411, USA.

Michael Pauen

Feeling Causes

Abstract: According to qualia-epiphenomenalism, phenomenal properties are causally inefficacious, they are metaphysically distinct from, and nomologically connected with certain physical properties. The present paper argues that the claim of causal inefficacy undermines any effort to establish the alleged nomological connection. Epiphenomenalists concede that variations of phenomenal properties in the absence of any variation of physical/functional properties are logically possible, however they deny that these variations are nomologically possible. But if such variations have neither causal nor functional consequences, there is no way to detect them — not only in scientific experiments, but also from the first-person perspective. Since neither third- nor first-person evidence can rule out the actual occurrence of such dissociations, the alleged nomological connection between phenomenal and physical properties cannot be established, in principle. As a consequence, the distinction between logical and nomological possibility breaks down and it cannot be ruled out that such dissociations occur in an unlimited number of cases.

Michael Pauen, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg, Dept. of Philosophy, Zschokkestr. 32, 39016 Magdeburg, Germany. Email:

William S. Robinson

Knowing Epiphenomena

Abstract: This paper begins with a summary of an argument for epiphenomenalism and a review of the author’s previous work on the self-stultification objection to that view. The heart of the paper considers an objection to this previous work and provides a new response to it. Questions for this new response are considered and a view is developed in which knowledge of our own mentality is seen to differ from our knowledge of external things.

Correspondence: William S. Robinson, Dept of Philosophy and Religious Studies, 402 Catt Hall, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011, USA.

William Seager

Emergence, Epiphenomenalism and Consciousness

Abstract: Causation can be regarded from either an explanatory/epistemic or an ontological viewpoint. From the former, emergent features enter into a host of causal relationships which form a hierarchical structure subject to scientific investigation. From the latter, the paramount issue is whether emergent features provide any novel causal powers, or whether the ‘go’ of the world is exhausted by the fundamental physical features which underlie emergent phenomena. I argue here that the ‘Scientific Picture of the World’ (SPW) strongly supports the claim that ontological causation is exhausted in the elementary physical features of the world. A method is developed for distinguishing ‘emergent ontological causation’ from the epistemological emergent explanatory patterns sanctioned by the SPW, and it is argued that the SPW implies that all emergence is mere epistemological emergence. However, this leads to a paradox when applied to consciousness itself, which turns out to be both epiphenomenal and viewpoint dependent.

Correspondence:William Seager, University of Toronto, 1265 Military Trail, Scarborough, ON, M1C 1A4, Canada. Email:

Alexander Staudacher

Epistemological Challenges to Qualia-epiphenomenalism

Abstract: One of the strongest objections to epiphenomenalism is that it precludes any kind of knowledge of qualia, since empirical knowledge has to include a causal relationship between the respective belief and the object of knowledge. It is argued that this objection works only if the causal relationship is understood in a very specific sense (as a ‘direct’ causal relationship). Epiphenomenalism can, however, live well with other kinds of causal relationships (‘indirect’ causal relationships) or even with a reliability account of knowledge which does not invoke causation at all. Michael Pauen has argued extensively (this volume of Journal of Consciousness Studies), however, that this line of defence doesn’t work because it presupposes the existence of psychophysical laws connecting qualia with physical phenomena which cannot be established under epiphenomenalist presuppositions. It is argued that Pauen’s arguments lead to sceptical consequences which threaten not only interactionist alternatives to epiphenomenalism but finally his own account.

Correspondence: Alexander Staudacher, Otto von Guericke-Universität, Magdeburg, Germany.

Sven Walter

Causal Exclusion as an Argument against Non-Reductive Physicalism

Abstract: It is often said that if non-reductive physicalism were correct, it would entail epiphenomenalism about irreducible mental properties which would be ‘screened off’ from causal relevance by their physical supervenience or realization base. According to such causal exclusion arguments, mental and physical properties compete for the role of the properties in virtue of which causes bring about their effects, the physical properties being bound to win this competition, thereby excluding mental properties from causal relevance. I argue that there is an important sense in which such arguments beg the question. The problem is that one has reason to believe their central premise only if one already assumes that there is no adequate non-reductive account of causal relevance, and this is forbidden in an argument intended to show that non-reductive physicalism is unable to account for the causal relevance of mental properties.

Correspondence: Dr. Sven Walter, Abteilung Philosophie, Universität Bielefeld, Postfach 100131, D-33501 Bielefeld, Germany.

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