The book works its way up to a solution to a certain class of mental causation problems, roughly the ones picked out by Kim’s supervenience argument. The problem is about properties: can a mental event cause anything in virtue of (or because) it has its mental properties — in other words, are mental properties causally relevant to any other property? Given supervenience, it doesn’t make sense to compare mental properties with their supervenience bases for causal relevance. Kim’s argument doesn’t rule them out either, since mental properties aren’t independent of physical properties (again, assuming supervenience). Maybe the basic intuition behind the problem is this: if what an event does has a complete explanation in terms of the laws of nature governing the parts of the objects involved, then nothing else about it is causally relevant. The book proposes a way to link up supervening properties to laws of nature. Start with some supervening property (like being the desire for tea), and an instance of it. Then “qualify” the supervening property with just enough so that the conjunction of the supervening property and the qualifying property amounts to the physical supervenience base for this instance of the supervening property. The conjunction necessitates the effect just as certainly as does the supervenience base. (Not just any old supervening property counts as causally relevant: a property has to be a “best explainer” at its supervenience level.)[The strategies developed in the book work well also to get clear on recent debates in philosophy of biology about whether there are laws in biology and whether selection is a cause.]
The first 4 chapters are about the mind/body problem in Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Huxley, and the 20th century conversations about behaviorism, identity, functionalism and anomalous monism, and the ways that the mental causation problem comes up for all of them (except for identity, which gets ruled out on the ground that mental properties are just not identical to physical properties).
Chapter 5 gives an overview of theories of properties and an argument for an “abundant” theory of properties. Chapter 6 argues for the link between causal relevance and laws of nature. Chapter 7 is about dispositions and other properties that essentially involve causation (hence the title “Sunburn and Fragile Things”). The chapter argues that those properties don’t have causal relevance relations with their essential partners (so exposure to the sun isn’t causally relevant to sunburn, and being fragile isn’t causally relevant to shattering). Chapter 8 goes over the supervenience argument. Chapter 9, the final chapter, sets out the solution to the problem described above.
The book is intended for use in classes, like philosophy of mind, metaphysics of mind, a seminar on mental causation (or even free will)… I’ve used the first few chapters in an introductory level class. Things get more complex later in the book, but it tries to present the background needed to get into the current conversations about metaphysics of mind.