Saturday, 1 December 2007

Honderich and the Curse of Epiphenomenalism

Honderich and the Curse of Epiphenomenalism

Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 13 numbers 7-8, 2006, pp61-77

Stephen Law

In Radical Externalism, Ted Honderich offers an ingenious and radical new solution to the problem of consciousness – a solution that promises, among other things, to do justice to two important features of consciousness – to both its subjectivity and its causal efficacy.

According to Honderich, the main alternatives to his own radical externalism are certain forms of dualism, or, as he puts it, “spiritualism”, and “devout physicalism”. Honderich’s central argument for radical externalism is that it succeeds in respecting those features of consciousness to which these two main alternatives fail to do justice. It is, therefore, the superior theory.

But is radical externalism superior? Does it have this advantage over its two main rivals?

I don’t believe it does. The central argument of this paper is that radical externalism falls foul of much the same kinds of problems concerning causal interaction that plague spiritualism. Indeed, ironically, it turns out that radical externalism is vulnerable to a similar objection to that which Honderich himself cleverly levelled again anomalous monism almost a quarter century ago.

But before we get to that objection, let’s begin by briefly outlining what Honderich takes to be the two main alternatives to his own theory – spiritualism and devout materialism – and examining their alleged failings.