Psychological and Causal Explanation: Accept or Deny?


The concept of psychological explanation has been used as a general term explaining people’s attempts to understand any phenomena linked to intelligent behavior. An adequate psychological explanation is seen as the one that offers enough information for psychologists to predict behaviors and then manage them. The psychological phenomenon of behavior is explained descriptively by drawing connections between it and real-time and real-space environmental conditions or events that influence the likelihood of its occurrence. The main advantage of descriptive psychological explanation is that it offers opportunities for prediction and control.

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Causal explanation denotes the idea that providing information about an event implies offering some data regarding its history. This is linked to showing that there are no non-causal explanations of events as causation and explanation are directly related (Lombrozo & Vasilyeva, 2017). Explanations of phenomena often appeal to their causes while causal claims represent answers to either implicit or explicit questions regarding how or why an event or a phenomenon occurred.

In the current exploration, the exploration of the claim that psychological explanation is causal explanation will be presented. On the one hand, a discussion on why the claim can be denied will be included. On the other hand, given the condition that there is no difference between physical and mental reasoning, an interpretation of why the claim can be accepted will be offered. In addition, given that there are significant differences between the reasoning about mental and physical, an explanation of why the claim can be denied will be presented.

Denying the Claim

In exploring the claim psychological explanation is a causal explanation, understanding causality as a principle is essential. Causality denotes the connection between a process and another process or state, in which the former partially affects the second and the latter is partially dependent on the formal. The world works through events following the actions of people. Societies understand and can explain the world because they know something about processes that produce what can be observed. There is the capacity to learn what causes which occurrences and when with implications regarding categorization and cognitive abilities of people. One may pose the question of how the expectations of causality form, and based on Shank’s theory, it is possible to learn about causes through discovering associations between types of processes and events. This means that observing the existence of connections and links between phenomena increases the awareness of causes in general.

One may want to deny the claim that phycological explanation is a causal explanation based on the argument put forward by Axmacher in his paper “Causation in psychoanalysis.” The scholar claimed that causal and psychoanalytic explanations were inconsistent because of the former are hermeneutic in nature and thus are inconsistent with causal explanations. In the case of psychoanalysis, which is connected to psychology as a discipline, the reliance on hermeneutic explanations is epistemologically “problematic because they typically act in a retroactive manner […] but do not make predictions (Axmacher, 2013, p. 1). Contrary to this, neuroscience appeals to the existence of causal explanations that both predict and explain and predict based on scientific laws. Thus, causal explanations represent both lawful and inevitable relations between cause and effect at the same time when deferred reconstruction supports hermeneutic explanations.

Accepting the claim that psychological explanation is causal explanation aligns with the mechanism in which actions take place. According to Davidson (1963), in order to understand how reason can rationalize an action, it is imperative “and sufficient that we see, at least in essential outline, how to construct a primary reason. The primary reason for an action is its cause” (p. 686). The author gives an explanation for this by using the example of an individual turning on the light. He suggests that actions of wanting to turn on the light and turning on the light are logically independent; the first can be used for explaining why the second is true. Such an explanation gives limited information; however, it implies that the action of turning on the light was intentional as the action of wanting usually excludes other attitudes, the sense of duty is seen as an obligation (Davidson, 1963). In this case, psychological and causal explanation coincide because the reasons for the action align both in physical and mental perspectives.

Accepting the Claim: No Significant Difference Between Reasoning About the Physical and the Mental

Accepting that there is no difference between the reasoning about the physical and the mental is necessary for allowing that psychological explanation is a causal explanation. Reasoning occurs when there are some resources available, and there are limitations to such resources (Harman, 1995). Reasoners have limited memories, attention spans, and time. Therefore, ideal rationality is not always possible due to reasoning: due to existing limits, people may use strategies and heuristics, the rule of thumb, and other methods that work for them most of the time. It is rational for them to implement such rules when there are no other tools or methods that will aid in giving reasonable answers given the limitations of available explanations.

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Since reasoning refers to what an individual does moment by moment, not distinguishing between reasoning about physical and mental will help in equating psychological and causal explanation. Thus, one may think that a complete understanding of everything that takes place in the world can be without anyone’s knowledge of what reasons caused the occurrence (Hornsby, 1993). However, if the complete truth about action and its causal future and history can be accepted in viewing it as a manifestation of the causal workings of the world, the impersonal viewpoint replaces the personal one. Eventually, the personal viewpoint can and will be adopted despite its redundancy.

Denying the Claim: No Significant Difference Between Reasoning About the Physical and the Mental

In the case of recognizing that there are significant differences between reasoning about the physical and about the mental, the claim that psychological explanation is causal explanation can be denied. In this case, it should be noted that there are issues associated with causal explanations. As mentioned by Hornsby (1993), “we are told that there are philosophers who accept that the items alluded to in giving a reasonable explanation play a part in the causal past of action, but who nevertheless dent that rational explanation is itself causal explanation” (p. 165). The proponents of the view think that if a person crosses the road because one wants to get to the other side, then there is an explanation of the crossing in regards to the final destination. Also, there is a causal relationship between the fact that a person wants to reach his or her destination and the crossing of the road; however, the existence of the explanation and the existence of a causal connection are seen as separate matters.

In general, scholars have experienced general difficulty associated with psychological reduction rather than a causal explanation. In some areas, the process of reduction refers to the move toward reaching greater objectivity and an accurate view of the real way in which things in nature occur (Nagel, 1974). However, the reasoning about the mental is concerned with behaviors rather than events and phenomena, which means that psychological explanation prevails in this case. On the contrary, causal explanation dominates within the reasoning about the physical because it is concerned with some events occurring as a result of others. While behaviors and decisions also result from previous occurrences, the way in which they form is different. As mentioned by Jackson (1982), physical information is the one that has physical property and therefore cannot be applied to explaining what is occurring in one’s mind, what are the functional roles of thoughts, their connections, as well as their links to events in the outside world. Thus, causality is not the quality of the mind but rather associated with physical information. Jackson (1982) provided an interesting example to distinguishing between physical and mental – capturing the smell of a rose. Physical qualities of smell are non-existent and rather exist in memory. From this, it is possible to infer that physicalism is false; however, it is the issue of polemics.

Concluding Remarks

In summary, it can be concluded that there are several perspectives that can be used for exploring the claim that psychological explanation is a causal explanation. Denying the claim is possible in the case when there is a division in the way causality is viewed. For example, according to Axmacher (2013) causal and psychoanalytic explanations are inconsistent because of the former are hermeneutic in nature and thus are incompatible with causal explanations. Therefore, equating causal and psychological explanation is ineffective because of the differences in the nature of their development. Accepting the claim is possible through recognizing that there are no significant contrasts between the reasoning about the mental and the physical. This is explained with the help of the idea that the prediction of behaviors inherent to a psychological explanation is similar to the prediction of events through causality. While the latter is linked to behaviors and the former is connected to events or phenomena, both suggest that there are reasons for things to occur and that such things can be foreseen or predicted.

In the case when one considers the existence of drastic differences in reasoning about mental and physical, denying the claim is possible. This can be explained by suggesting that behaviors, which are linked to psychological reasoning, do not occur for the same reasons for which phenomena or events take place within the causal explanation. Mental considerations are directly related to behaviors within the psychology of reasoning and therefore show why and how people solve problems and make particular decisions. Physical reasoning is rather causal as every occurrence has a pre-existing reason that increased the likelihood of its emergence in the first place. Thus, different views on the claim of psychological explanation being causal explanation are attributed to the way in which its components are addressed.


Axmacher, N. (2013). Causation in psychoanalysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 25(7), 1-4. Web.

Davidson, D. (1963). Actions, reasons, and causes. The Journal of Philosophy, 60(23), 685-700.

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Harman, G. (1995). Rationality. In E. E. Smith & D. N. Osherson (Eds.), Invitation to cognitive science (pp. 9-45). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Hornsby, J. (1993). Agency and causal explanation. In J. Heil & A. R. Mele (Eds.), Mental causation (pp. 161-188). New York, NY, US: Clarendon Press.

Jackson, F. (1982). Epiphenomenal qualia. Philosophical Quarterly, 32, 127-136.

Lombrozo, T., & Vasilyeva, N. (2017). Causal explanation. In M. Waldman (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of causal reasoning (pp. 415-432). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Nagel, T. (1974). What is it like to be a bat? The Philosophical Review, 83(4), 435-450.

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"Psychological and Causal Explanation: Accept or Deny?" StudyCorgi, 9 July 2021,

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StudyCorgi. "Psychological and Causal Explanation: Accept or Deny?" July 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Psychological and Causal Explanation: Accept or Deny?" July 9, 2021.


StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Psychological and Causal Explanation: Accept or Deny'. 9 July.

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