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Cavell, M. (2000). Reasons, Causes, and the Domain of the First-Person. Changing Ideas In A Changing World: The Revolution in Psychoanalysis. Essays in Honour of Arnold Cooper, 207-213.

Cavell, M. (2000). Reasons, Causes, and the Domain of the First-Person. Changing Ideas In A Changing World: The Revolution in Psychoanalysis. Essays in Honour of Arnold Cooper, 207-213

Reasons, Causes, and the Domain of the First-Person Book Information Previous Up Next

Marcia Cavell, Ph.D.

Early in the seventies, Arnold Cooper and I decided to teach an elective course together at the Columbia University Psychoanalytic Center in New York City. He was a senior analyst and faculty member; I was a philosopher and psychoanalytic research candidate. We were friends. We knew very little about the subject we proposed to teach, existential psychoanalysis, and thought we should know more. Friendship, curiosity, our joined areas of experience would, we naively figured, see us through.

We began the course, on my suggestion, with the subject of reasons and causes. I argued, taking a line recently in favour in philosophy, that to explain a bit of human behaviour that is an action, that is, something done intentionally — for example, raising one's arm in order to make a salute versus being the hapless sufferer of a muscular spasm — we invoke reasons, not causes. The argument saw reason-explanations — explanations in terms of the person's beliefs, desires, and other mental states — as antithetical to causal explanations. And though it did not explicitly put human beings outside the natural order, it seemed to open a disturbing breach.

Arnie was not convinced. He agreed that actions are done for reasons, conscious and unconscious, but he couldn't see why that rules out causality. From this muddy base we launched ourselves into the morass of Binswanger, Sartre, and freedom.

Perhaps I can now be a bit clearer about the issues of our old elective, and in a way sympathetic to a conviction Arnie and I share: human activity is a part of the natural order, though a special part, and one that psychoanalysis illumines in a way nothing else does.

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