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  • Enactive Causality: Interventions, Cakes, and ClockworksA Reply to Gallagher and Donovan and Murphy
  • Sanneke de Haan (bio)

When introducing a novel model, two things need to be in order: it has to be accurate and it has to be workable. In their comments, Gallagher as well as Donovan and Murphy helpfully criticize my enactive account on both grounds.

First, its accuracy. Donovan and Murphy doubt whether my enactive model can account for the distinction I make between psychiatric and neurological disorders and, more generally, between different kinds of causes and interventions. In the article, I argue that sense-making problems that result from arbitrary physiological causes such as brain tumors are different from psychiatric disorders in which the sense-making problems attest of a primary difficulty of someone's relating to themselves and/or their world. Psychiatric disorders thus refer to global disturbances of persons in their worlds, whereas neurological disorders refer to local disturbances in people's brains. On this division, dementia should indeed be classified as a neurological rather than a psychiatric disorder because there is no motivational story to tell about the sense-making problems that constitute the ill ness. But if I say that sense-making problems can have an arbitrary physiological cause instead of a life-world reason, am I not again opposing physiological and other (experiential, environmental, existential) processes? Such an opposition would go right against my claim that the four dimensions are mereologically related, as different foci on one and the same process. A similar problem seems to arise when I distinguish between different kinds of interventions as having different causal trajectories. Psychotherapy and drugs for example can both be effective, but they work in different ways, presenting different causal trajectories. Does this mean that I am again falling back on sorting interventions dualistically into either experiential or physiological? Am I saying that when psychotherapy changes someone's mood this change in turn leads to certain physiological changes?

No, I am not. As I write in the article, both experiential and physiological processes can only be understood in terms of their dependence on the wider context of a person in interaction with her world. As they are both part of this larger system, it would be a mistake to oppose them and assume [End Page 31] linear causal interactions between them, as if a physiological domino were hitting a psychological one, or vice versa. So how then should we understand these differences?

Donovan and Murphy seem to think that a holistic system cannot allow for differentiation: that differentiation automatically calls for decomposing the system into various parts. They assume that if we distinguish between different starting points and different causal trajectories we need to be able to point to which part of the system is at fault; where it goes wrong. Accordingly, they argue that the four dimensions (physiological, experiential, sociocultural, and existential) have to be isolated, as different parts of the person-world system, with causal relations between them. That would indeed undermine my enactive account: the four dimensions are part of one person-world system, but precisely not isolatable parts of this system. It is, however, a misconception to think that differentiating requires such localizing of isolatable parts.

The kind of system Donovan and Murphy seem to have in mind is like a clockwork: when the clockwork stops ticking we can open it up and see which cog got stuck, or which screw got unscrewed. But, as Bechtel and Richardson (2010) argue, not all systems are decomposable in this way. A holistic system such as the person-interacting-with-her-world is non-decomposable—but that does not make it a black box. What is required is a shift from thinking in terms of linear causal relations between different parts to thinking in terms of the organizational causality of global-to-local or local-to-global effects. To take my example of cakes again, when my chocolate cake does not taste as good as usual, that can be due to all kinds of causes, ranging from mistakes in the amount of sugar (local-to-global effects), to mistakes in how long it has been in the oven (global-to...


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pp. 31-33
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