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Donald Davidson with Herman Dooyeweerd

This page discusses how the ideas of Donald Davidson might relate to that of Herman Dooyeweerd, and vice versa. It is a summary, and will initially be limited and terse or wordy. Initially it covers only some of Davidson's ideas, related to mind and brain, but we hope to expand it later.


Actions, Reasons and Causes

Davidson's Actions, Reasons and Causes [1963] states that the reasons an agent gives for an action (rationalization) are not the same as the causes of the action. Rationalization is a species of ordinary causal explanation. Davidson liked to employ the precise language of logic, so he explained this as: Action A is explainable by a primary reason, which involves a pro-attitude towards a goal G, coupled with a belief that action A is a means to achieving goal G. Part of Davidson's reason (motivation) for separating reasons from causes is his belief that causal laws are 'strict' while reasons need not be. Moreover, there are many aspects of an action or an event.

Strict laws are laws that apply without exception. Whenever event E1 causes event E2 there must be laws and conditions C1 such that (C1 & D1) --> D2, where D1 is a description of event E1 and D2, of event E2.

Dooyeweerdian discussion of Davidson's ideas of actions, reasons & causes
Davidson's idea Dooyeweerd affirms Dooyeweerdian critique Dooyeweerdian enrichment
(Each might deserve research)
Separation of causes from reasons given. Action is immersive while reason-giving has the character of Gegenstand. Davidson did not penetrate to the core of what actions and reason-giving entail. Action is multi-aspectual human functioning, immersively responding to the laws of many aspects simultaneously. Causality refers to our immersive response to the laws of the aspects, some deterministic, some normative.
Reason-giving, though also an action (MAHF), involves a lingual Gegenstand relationship, where the lingual functioning is separated from what it is expressing. (Dooyeweerd explored the analytical Gegenstand involved in theoretical thought, but it is useful to extend the idea of separation to other human functioning, such as the lingual. This requires philosophical and empirical research.)
Result is that only a few of the aspects important in the action are expressed, many left tacit, and those expressed are expressed imperfectly.
Reason-giving is ordinary causal explanation, r.t. precise. Reason-giving is multi-aspectual human functioning like any other action. Multi-aspectual human functioning Dooyeweerd worked out a good philosophy of the everyday, which involves immersiveness of multi-aspectual human functioning. Reason-giving can be distinguished from other kinds of actions by being qualified by the lingual aspect. Moreover, the reason-giving action is led by any other aspect, which makes the reason-giving meaningful, such as juridical when trying to defend oneself or pistic when trying to convince someone to believe something.
Strict laws.

Causal laws are 'strict' (without exceptions), s.t. law C1 & D1 -> D2 enables event E1 to cause E2. C1 = factual conditions that apply at time of event. D1, D2 are expressions of events E1, E2.

In C1 and D1, Davidson seems to be reaching for the distinction Dooyeweerd made between two sides of temporal reality, those entity (fact) and law. C is entity (fact) side. D partly refers to the law side, the ongoing response to laws of aspects, and the 'causing' of E2 by E1 is because we are responsive. The law side (aspects) is what guarantees generality, though never full repeatability. Notice that Davidson works with descriptions D of events E.
Also, can we really speak of abstracted events E?
So Davidson's attempt at precise understanding of causality might be flawed.
Description of event already presupposes selecting what it is meaningful to describe, i.e. selecting out one or more aspects from all those that pertain in the multi-aspectual situation that is the events. It is the selection of aspects that are meaningful to the describer, which abstracts events E1, E2 from the melee of temporal reality. This is an analytical Gegenstand.

See Roy Clouser's The Myth of Religious Newtrality for a comprehensive exposition of Dooyeweerd's ideas about causality, properties, laws, etc.

Causality is deterministic. Causality gains its original meaning from the physical aspect, the laws of which are largely deterministic. Causality is also used with analogical meaning in relation to many other aspects, such as historical causality, mental causality. These are not always deterministic, but normative. There is something that echoes causality in the operation of all aspects, because of cosmic time, in which things progress in all aspects. It is different in each aspect. Mental (sensitive / psychic) causality differs from logical (analytical), historical (formative aspect), etc.
Good area for research: the different kinds of 'causality' and their relationship with time.
Reasons given need not be strict. Lingual function never expresses the entire range of meaning, only that which we select, and also that only partially. Needs also to consider the hearer as well as speaker. Explore lingual functioning in all its myriad glory.

Mental Events and Anomolous Monism

In Mental Events [1970] Davidson tries to account for the link between mental events of the mind and 'physical' events of the brain. For example, turning a light on might have several different mental causes, such as wanting to see, or to alert a burglar in the kitchen. Mental 'is' physical [my scare-quotes], but cannot be reduced to physical. Three things Davidson held: Mental causally affects physical just as physical affefts mental. However, causality is governed by 'strict' laws (see above). There are no strict laws governing the link between mental and physical. Therefore, we have a situation that Davidson called anomolous monism.

Dooyeweerdian discussion of Davidson's ideas on mental events and anomolous monism
Davidson's idea Dooyeweerd affirms Dooyeweerdian critique Dooyeweerdian enrichment
(Each might deserve research)
Mental 'is' physical. Davidson could be seen as trying to distance himself from substance concepts of a scholastic sort (governed by the Nature-Grace ground-motive. But what is 'is'? What does he mean by mental and physical? 'Is' occurs by virtue of being meaningful in one or more aspects.
Each aspect is a different mode of being or existing.
Mental is sensitive being while physical is either physical or biotic being.
But neither on their own exhausts the being of the agent (person) functioning in these aspects; that agent functions in all aspects simultaneously.
Mental can affect physical and vice versa. M -> P; P -> M. Davidson was trying to avoid epiphenomalism, the idea that mental is a mere label for complex physical things. Dooyeweerd also recognises the distinct reality of both, in the sensitive / psychic and physical aspects. But in discussing 'causality', the time element seems to have been overlooked. "M -> P" suggests a time-lag between the mental and physical event. In Dooyeweerd, they occur simultameously, as two aspects of the same event (where the event is a multi-aspectual event of the whole agent).
Causality follows 'strict' laws. See above. See above. See above.
No strict-law link between mental and physical events. No law nor rationality that governs how mental and physical functioing go together. But Davidson had no clear notion of inter-aspect dependency. Inter-aspect dependency is where functioning in one aspect depends on that of earlier aspects for its actualization, and that of later aspects for its full meaning. This can help understand the link between mental and physical without reduction.
Also, the reasons for mental activity, such as wanting light to read by (lingual reason) or to alert a burglar (juridical reason): taking account of Dooyeweerd's aspects helps analyse such things.
Anomolous monism Trying perhaps to recognise irreducibility but dependency. But rather confusing, even though 'ingenious'. Probably because Davidson presupposed existence as prior to meaning. Try understanding Dooyeweerd's notions of dependency, and or meaning.

This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2013 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 7 November 2013. Last updated: