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On the interface problem in philosophy and psychiatry 

On the interface problem in philosophy and psychiatry
On the interface problem in philosophy and psychiatry

Tim Thornton

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date: 19 September 2019

A significant family of antireductionist approaches to the philosophy of mind argues that mental states answer to distinct normative and rational constitutive principles which have no echo in physical theory. The mind is, in Bermúdez’s phrase, autonomous. But, at the same time, human actions are part of the natural world and thus susceptible to explanations at a variety of levels, from that of whole persons down, via cognitive psychology and neurology, to the basic biology, chemistry, and physics of the cellular level. But if the mind is autonomous, how can person-level explanation interface with lower-level explanations? This is the interface problem and it has been regarded by some philosophers, such as Sellars, as the framing problem for philosophy as a whole. In this chapter, I argue that the interface problem is sustained as a global problem for a priori philosophy by a tension between the antireductionism of normative properties to nomological science and a construal of nomological science as a metaphysical benchmark. It is this which leads to a dualism of norm and nature which neither an appeal to supervenience nor the ‘stance stance’ popularized by Dennett can bridge. But, I suggest, the dualism can be at least partially and progressively dismantled by marshalling recent ideas which question the metaphysical pretensions of nomological science, its completeness and explanatory basicness. This gives way to a conception of the interface problem as a substantial but merely local matter for psychiatry and other sciences of the mind rather than the framing problem for philosophy or philosophy of psychiatry.

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