Free Content Between Mind and Brain: Final and Efficient Causation in Relation to Neuroplasticity

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Abstract:

Reductionism is usually taken for granted in many areas of science, neuroscience and psychology being no exceptions. It is often assumed as scientific orthodoxy that human behavior can be reduced to “what the brain does” without recourse to a consideration of cognition. Although many philosophers and ethicists may seek to reduce or eliminate the concept of mind, other philosophers and ethicists have continually pointed out the logical inconsistencies of such an approach. Via a discussion of efficient and final causes in Aristotelian philosophy, I seek to argue that the understanding of human beings as rational and social creatures has guided and should continue to guide our approach to the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Observations concerning rational behavior and cognition, by necessity, have provided the benchmarks by which clinicians evaluate the effectiveness of somatic/pharmacological or psychological/ behavioral interventions: Eliminative reductionism is inappropriate in this area. In approaching issues pertaining to the relationship between human cognitive functioning and neural functioning, the distinction between capacity and vehicle will be used. However, the fact that mental and behavioral functioning can alter neuronal functioning (and vice versa) necessitates that those working with the mentally ill need to know both the efficient causes—the vehicles of certain capacities—and the role of the capacities themselves and how they relate to possible final causes in giving explanations for behavior. These issues become more significant when considering the ethics of treatment choice for those with mental disorders.

Keywords: ARISTOTELIAN; COGNITIVE; HUMAN NATURE; MENTAL HEALTH; NEUROETHICS; PSYCHOLOGICAL DISORDER

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1559-4343.13.3.194

Publication date: December 1, 2011

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