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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-V013-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 25, 2024, from

Article Summary

Epiphenomenalism is a theory concerning the relation between the mental and physical realms, regarded as radically different in nature. The theory holds that only physical states have causal power, and that mental states are completely dependent on them. The mental realm, for epiphenomenalists, is nothing more than a series of conscious states which signify the occurrence of states of the nervous system, but which play no causal role. For example, my feeling sleepy does not cause my yawning – rather, both the feeling and the yawning are effects of an underlying neural state.

Mental states are real, and in being conscious we are more than merely physical organisms. Nevertheless, all our experiences, thoughts and actions are determined by our physical natures. Mental states are actually as smoke from a machine seems to be, mere side effects making no difference to the course of Nature.

Citing this article:
Campbell, Keith and Nicholas J.J. Smith. Epiphenomenalism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-V013-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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