The term “mental causation” belongs to the philosophical notions and denotes “causal transactions involving mental events or states, such as beliefs, desires, feelings and perceptions (Yoo, 2007). This term is used in cases when a mental state causes a distinct physical reaction. For example, you wave your hand when you see your friend in the distance. This action is subconsciously caused at the mental level. It is considered to be the central notion of all actions performed intentionally.
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Everything we do is controlled by our neuro-synaptic events. In other words, the synapses and neurons of our brain send impulses for our movements. Nevertheless, there are debates on this subject. There are three basic points of view concerning mental causation. The first one believes that mental events differ from neuro-synaptic events. For example, thinking as a mental event may give impulses to the brain that London is the capital of Great Britain but it does not cause any physical movements, it is just pure thinking which is not caused by neuro-synaptic events. The second point of view considers mental events to be the main reason for physical actions. It is based on the statement that “someone did something because they had a certain belief” (A Key Problem of Mental Causation, 2011). For example, Susan does not trust John, because he has already betrayed her several times, John called off the meeting because it was going to rain. All people’s actions have definite reasons. What about thoughtless actions? Are they also based on mental actions? The last point of view believes that if the event was caused by a sufficient reason, “nothing else can cause it – unless that other thing would have caused the event all by itself” (A Key Problem of Mental Causation, 2011). This point of view is more sophisticated. There may be two reasonable causes of one event. For example, during the firing squad “Smith’s bullet enters the right side of the traitor’s brain at the same instant that Jones’s bullet enter the left side” (A Key Problem of Mental Causation, 2011). Each mental event may cause the traitor’s death.
Many philosophers disagree that beliefs are the main causes of physical actions. Even if there is a neuro-synaptic cause, which is sufficient for the action, beliefs do not always cause the action. Many contemporary philosophers consider all our actions to be the product of what happens in our brain. On the other, it seems hard to suppose the beliefs to be the impulses of our actions. Other philosophers do not exclude the beliefs from the main causes of our actions. According to this point of view, all people actions may be explained and have distinct causes. Nevertheless, there are certain exceptions in the mind-body connection. Many philosophers discussing the problem of the notion of mental causation do not take into account the people who have a mental illness. Their brain reactions differ from other people’s ones and their actions are difficult to call well-considered and well-grounded.
More than that, there are three major sub-problems of mental causation: the exclusion problem, the problem of anomalism and the problem of externalism. The exclusion problem consists of the pure explanation of our actions in our human psychology. It is not necessary to go outside our inner world to explain our actions. Mental events are causally irrelevant, they are merely the results of the effects caused by the reaction chain. According to Thomas Huxley “mental states are like the steam coming off a train: it plays no causal role in the train’s moving forward, it is merely an “emergent property” of the actual causation occurring in the engine” (Walter 2007, §2). The problem of externalism takes into account the outer world which influences the meaning of the words that belongs to the human inner world. A human brain can think about the things of the real world. When a man thinks that water is wet, it corresponds to the fact of the real world that the water is in fact. If the externalism theory is true, the question about the ability of the mental actions to cause physical ones becomes to be doubtful. The problem of anomalism observes such mental actions which do not have any explanation from the scientific point of view. No strict laws are regulating the work of our brain and mental actions. There are a lot of cases that are still too complicated to be understood with a human mind. One of such anomalous cases is a mental illness. There are a lot of different explanations of the main causes of this disease (Yoo, 2007).
There are even national differences in the causation of mental illness. For example, genetics, infections and allergies are considered to be the predominant causes of mental illness in Australia, perceived constitutional weakness and nervousness are generally reported in Japan, genetic factors are more predominant in England while in Hong Kong social causes are considered to be more relevant.
Mental illness is considered to be a genuine medical phenomenon and its causes are explained from the medical point of view. There is a wide range of causal and etiologic factors contributing to the development of this disease. They may be divided into several groups: physical, social, environmental and psychological. Physical factors are biological and they are generally genetic. Some people are more susceptible to mental illness. It may different head injures which may cause mental disease. There are also presuppositions that vitamin and mineral deficiencies may be also the reasons for mental disorders. Among the social and environmental causes, there are all the things surrounding us which impact our mental health in some way or another. It is the place where we live, the place where we work, the people surrounding us, our friends, our family and others. Psychological factors are the most widespread causes of mental disease. All stresses and events influence a human psychic and state of mind. Here belong post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative identity disorder and anxiety (What Causes Mental Illness? n.d.).
All these causes should be distinguished from the causation from the philosophical point of view. According to one of the most popular philosophers, George Graham, mental illness is “capacity-tethered rationality impairments” (p. 137). Such illness causes the disorder of all fundamental human mental faculties caused by a mixture of mental and non-mental states. Graham considers the ability to act in society, the emotional commitment, to make decisions, goals and choices to be the fundamental human mental faculties. The rational relationships between body and mind are disrupted by mechanical processes during mental illness. Nevertheless, Graham does not have a strict point of view concerning mechanical processes causing mental illness. For example, human wishes are not considered to be mechanical processes whatever irrational they are. These wishes are intentionally thought over in a human brain. On the other hand, it is quite a vague notion as far as mood disorders do not have always the intentional causes. Sometimes, our behaviour is unpredictable and unreasonable but it does not mean that we have problems with body-mind reactions and as the result, we have a mental disorder. The notion of causation and the causes of mental illness are quite debatable issues nowadays. There are a lot of points of view that are sometimes contradictory and incompatible.
- A Key Problem of Mental Causation. (2011). Web.
- Walter, S. (2003). Physicalism and Mental Causation. Exeter, England: Imprint Academic.
- What Causes Mental Illness? (n.d.).
- Yoo, J. (2007). Mental Causation.