Most people have felt the gap between the consciousness of love and physical love. Cartesian dualism seems to entail many of the maladies of love experience, including the difference between physical love and the consciousness of love. And even though you can describe all the hormonal changes, the chemistry of smells and social conditions, science is still not able to affect consciousness so that you actually fall in love. Science might even apply a complicated algorithm and Big Data to predict who will match. Yet being in love as a mental state is a challenge to all materialist theories; behaviourism, type-identity-theory or physicalism. In order to understand the consciousness of love, it is my suggestion that one should rather look in the direction of Donald Davidson’s Anomalous Monism: you need to be a property or predicative dualist, otherwise you will meet too great ontological challenges, especially when trying to understand the consciousness of love, but you do not necessarily need to be a substance dualist as Descartes.

Reductio ad absurdum
From the point of view of behaviourism, mind is an aspect of behaviour and mental events are reflexes produced by a response to stimuli under certain conditions (Chalmers, 3). Gilbert Ryle argued The Concept of the Mind (1949) against any kind of dualism or ‘the dogma of the ghost in the machine’ (Ryle, 15). However, from a dualist point of view, the problem with behaviourism is that it cannot explain the experience of love. The experience of being in love cannot be explained only through observation by science. In order to grasp the consciousness of love, one must also take introspection into account and look at consciousness from the inside, as the concept of love is an essential ghost in ‘the bodily machinery’. Type-identity theory is also a problematic way to follow, as it holds that mental states are identical to the associated brain states. For example, Saul Kripke argues in Naming and Necessity (1972) that there is an element of contingency in the correspondence between brain states and mental states, and this contrasts with a materialist explanation of identity (Kripke, 332). As such, there are both an epistemological and ontological gap between the physical domain and consciousness.

In continuation of this, one could also add that any kind of physical monism – where a mental event also is a physical event – cannot explain how it feels to be conscious. As David Chalmers says:

“The hard problem of consciousness is the problem of experience. Human beings have subjective experience: there is something it is like to be them. We can say that a being is conscious in this sense […] A mental state is conscious when there is something it is like to be in that state.”
(Chalmers, 248)

So even though we might be able to discriminate stimuli and connect it to brain states, and even to monitor and explain internal states of the brain, we will still have great difficulties in explaining how is it to be in love. Any kind of physical monism can only explain structures and functions, and the causal order of these, but not consciousness itself – or how does it feel to be in love.

Mental Events
Thus there are deep inherent contradictions in our understanding of consciousness, and as such of our conception of love and freedom. As humans we believe in freedom and that we are free to choose whom we love, even though the metaphor ‘fall in love’ might suggest otherwise. It is difficult to explain the freedom of humans if you at the same time argue that consciousness can be explained from a determinist physical monism-point-of-view. Yet we cannot reject the physical aspect of love either, as the metaphor suggests. Consequently, in order to save the belief in freedom of choice, you need to maintain a dualist perspective, yet on the other side, one cannot deny the physical explanation and deterministic laws either. Donald Davidson has tried to combine the internal contractions in the explanation of consciousness in his seminal essay Mental Events (1970).

In his essay, Davidson asks: ‘Mental events such as perceivings, rememberings, decisions, and actions, resist capture in the nomological net of physical theory. How can this fact be reconciled with the causal role of mental events in the physical world?’ (Davidson 2002, 116). In solving this puzzle of apparent contradiction, Davidson invents ‘the sentences of the triad’. First of all, he argues against epiphenomenalism, as he says (1) there must be a mental-physical causal interaction. Secondly, he also argues (2) ‘where there is causality, there must be law: events related as cause and effect fall under strict deterministic laws’ (Davidson 2002, 116). And finally, he must also concede that (3) there are no deterministic laws which can explain mental events, otherwise we would not have a free will. This last sentence he calls ‘the anomalism of the mental’. Davidson defines his own standpoint as ‘anomalous monism’, as it contains these three inherently contradictory sentences in our understanding of consciousness, yet he might save the materialism of consciousness.

The keyword in Davidson’s theory is ‘supervenience’. All events are physical, yet mental characteristics are only dependent, or ‘supervenient’ on physical characteristics (Davidson 2002, 119). Mental events are supervenient on physical events which in turn are governed by physical laws. In this way, the mental event and the physical event interacts through ‘supervenience’ which is not deterministic, yet it can still be maintained that physical events are dependent on deterministic causality. In addition, supervenience does not entail reducibility through law, rather it leads to a token-identity between mental and physical events, and as such, Davidson argues for the impossibility of type-identity between the mental and the physical. Instead, every mental event is a representation of a certain physical event as a token-identity (Stanford, web).

Furthermore, mental events possess other characteristics than physical events, and, as a consequence, they must have different properties. However, Davidson denies the existence of a substance dualism of the mind and the body, as put forward by Descartes. Yet he does at the same time, so it seems, argue for a kind of property dualism where both mental and physical events share a physical substance, yet they have different properties (Oxford, web) and require different predicates. As Davidson concludes: ‘Anomalous monism resembles materialism in its claim that all events are physical, but rejects the thesis, usually considered essential to materialism, that mental phenomena can be given purely physical explanations’ (Davidson 2002, 119).

Is Davidson a dualist then? One could argue that it seems contradictory that Davidson describes his theory as ‘anomalous monist’ and yet so clearly stresses the dichotomy between the properties or predicates of the mental and the physical. One can say that he does save a monistic physical world, but on the other hand he must also admit that there is a ‘categorical difference between the mental and the physical’ (Davidson 2002, 123). One has to consider anomalous monism as a kind of nonreductive materialism, where the mental is only conceptually different from the physical, but not ontologically autonomous (Davidson 2006, 9).

Mental love
Davidson’s theory of anomalous monism is enlightening in the study the concept of love, as proposed at the beginning of this essay. The concept of love is different from the physical explanations of love, as you find them in the natural sciences. You need to be a predicative dualist in order to explain the concepts of love. This also means that love cannot be deduced from causal lawlike circumstances, as Davidson says: ‘Mental events cannot be explained by physical science’ (Davidson 2002, 124). As such, it will not help any reality show or scientists in calculating which couple will match the best, even though if they knew all the factors and data behind. There is what Chalmers would call an explanatory gap between the subjective and the objective description of the consciousness of love.

Love is a phenomenon of consciousness and a mental event, and as such it cannot be explained by or even deduced from the natural sciences. The reason is that the predicates/properties of the mental and of the physical are categorically different, even though they might be ontologically the same. There is no doubt that the mental events of love interact with the physical, because the mental is not a closed system, and it is only supervenient on physical laws, and this suggests the freedom of love. So yes, you might need to be property or a predicative dualist even today, for example when you try to understand love, yet you need not be a substance dualist as Descartes.

(This essay was originally published in The Annual Review by The Oxford Philosophical Society in their 2020-issue.)

‘Anomalous Monism’. 2005 (2019). In Accessed 03.11.2019
Chalmers, David J. 2002. ‘Consciousness and Its Place in Nature’. In: Chalmers, David. J. (2002). Philosophy of Mind – classical and contemporary readings. Oxford University Press.
Davidson, Donald. 2002 ‘Mental Events’. In: Chalmers, David. J. (2002). Philosophy of Mind – classical and contemporary readings. Oxford University Press.
Davidson, Donald. 2006. The Essential Davidson. Clarendon Press. Oxford.
Kripke, Saul A. 2002. ‘Naming and Necessity’ excerpt. In: Chalmers, David. J. (2002). Philosophy of Mind – classical and contemporary readings. Oxford University Press.
Ryle, Gilbert. 1969 (1949). The Concept of Mind. Hutchinson & Co.
Oxford Web. Property Dualism. Link: (Link: https:// Accessed 03.11.2020