We explain what people think and do by citing their reasons, but how do such explanations work, and what do they tell us about the nature of reality? Contemporary efforts to address these questions are often motivated by the worry that our ordinary conception of rationality contains a kernel of supernaturalism―a ghostly presence that meditates on sensory messages and orchestrates behavior on the basis of its ethereal calculations. In shunning this otherworldly conception, contemporary philosophers have focused on the project of “naturalizing” the mind, viewing it as a kind of machine that converts sensory input and bodily impulse into thought and action. Eric Marcus rejects this choice between physicalism and supernaturalism as false and defends a third way.
He argues that philosophers have failed to take seriously the idea that rational explanations postulate a distinctive sort of causation―rational causation. Rational explanations do not reveal the same sorts of causal connections that explanations in the natural sciences do. Rather, rational causation draws on the theoretical and practical inferential abilities of human beings. Marcus defends this position against a wide array of physicalist arguments that have captivated philosophers of mind for decades. Along the way he provides novel views on, for example, the difference between rational and nonrational animals and the distinction between states and events.
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Eric Marcus is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University.Review:
Rational Causation is about rationality―the capacity to appreciate and be guided by reasons. This is a big topic, straddling the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of action, and epistemology. Marcus has fascinating views to defend about each of these subjects, and he draws them all together into a deep and illuminating account of rationality's nature and structure. The book offers just what one hopes for, but rarely finds, in work on rationality: the combination of a broad perspective with detailed and rigorous engagement of a range of specific issues. A superlative achievement. (Jason Bridges, University of Chicago)
The central problem of this work involves explaining the peculiar processes involved when a person offers reasons for what is thought or done. Traditionally, the philosophical explanation of these kinds of rational ability has been either from a naturalistic perspective or from a supersensible, mentalistic viewpoint. Marcus rejects these approaches and adopts what he describes as a 'philosophically exotic' theory in accordance with ordinary common sense. By sidestepping the issue of mind–body dualism, Marcus argues that human belief is fundamentally made possible by the mind's ability to relate worldly facts rather than beliefs about those facts. Rational explanation here is not intended to explain internal states of mind. Moreover, Marcus contends that rational ability is not based on efficient causation as described by natural law but instead on a unique kind of cause termed 'rational causation.' His arguments weave together significant issues from epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of action. The work is carefully and insightfully argued with helpful references to current literature. (L. C. Archie Choice 2012-08-01)
A remarkable book, one that should be read by anyone with interests in epistemology, action theory, or the philosophy of mind...Marcus has shown us that there is a defensible alternative to the Davidsonian picture of reasons as straightforward, lightning-like causes. (Clayton Littlejohn The Philosopher’s Magazine 2012-12-01)
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