Is the author prepared to live in a world guided by his/her conclusions? Where no one is held responsible for his/her actions? Anarchy, Hades, the book of Judges, welcome.
Even if this person is discussing these ideas "only academically," and has no intention of changing criminal law to reflect these "intriguing ideas," beware of the students of this professor. Like Saul to Gamaliel, the students to Jimmy Stewart in Rope, and Marxists to Marx, the students are often willing to take their instructor's ideas to new depths their instructor would never have thought possible.
The idea of scientific respectability is weak grounds for the course of action Moore is expounding. The question is not "do some scientists respect this idea?" but "is it true?" Ahh... absolute truth! But in a world that does not recognize absolute truth, we're left with endless poll-taking. But this produces more questions than answers. Do some scientists respect the idea of determinism. Of course. Do all? Of course not. At what threshhold does an idea become respectable? When 100% of scientists respect it? Too ambitious? 95%? When the dissenters have been liquidated?
Ironically, only when a relavist's pet idea is on the outs do they recognize the mutability of science. Sure, some scientists don't accept this, but science is always changing! A complete reversal comes once the pet idea is accepted, however. Then, the rock solid nature of science is emphasized. Global warming has been proved! Determinism has been proved! Mutable? Not now! The doubts are only emphasized in order to move you away from your current theory. Once you've adopted their theory, no additional doubt is required. Now the theory is discussed as unquestionable fact. Note that this announcement did not mention any existing theories that challenge the deterministic one.
There's several fundamental flaws lurking here. One especially noxious one is that because this author does not recognize the supernatural realm, s/he concludes that it does not exist. But this akin to a blind person claiming that there is no such thing as the moon, or a person working with only nonmagnetic materials rejecting the idea of magnetism. Recognize the limits of your instruments, materials, and method. You cannot make conclusions about what you will not probe.
Mechanical Brains and Responsible Choices
Michael Moore, CAS Professor of Law and Philosophy, Illinois
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Spurlock Museum, Knight Auditorium
600 S. Gregory Street, Urbana
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The neuroscience of the last 30 years has discovered that our voluntary actions are initiated by certain happenings in our brains well prior to our consciously willing such actions to occur. That finding seems to threaten the common sense view of persons as agents who both cause such actions and are morally responsible for them. This finding also seems to threaten persons deserving retributive punishment for such actions by the criminal law. Three different interpretations of this finding ground three distinct bases for these threats to our conception of ourselves as responsible agents. First, the finding is taken to show that our choices are not free but are determined by certain brain events over which we have no control. Second, the finding seems to show that our choices do not cause the actions they seem to cause; rather, such choices seem to be merely "epiphenomenal" with voluntary actions, that is, co-effects of some common cause in the brain but themselves lacking any causal power over human actions. Third, the finding is taken to show that consciousness does not guide the actions it seems to guide but is merely an accompanying side effect of certain brain events that are the real causes of human actions. Contemporary neuroscience has thus made concrete and scientifically respectable a series of related challenges to our being responsible agents, challenges that have existed speculatively and in the abstract since the rise of Hobbesian materialism. The lecture assesses whether these challenges are more successful in the hands of contemporary neuroscience than they were in the hands of earlier psychologies, be they those of a Hobbes, a Freud, or a Skinner.
All CAS events are free and open to the public.