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Rational Causation

Rational Causation

Eric Marcus

ISBN 9780674059900

Publication date: 03/20/2012

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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.


  • 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


  • Eric Marcus is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University.

Book Details

  • 280 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press