Friday, July 15, 2011

Pop Science: Still Ignoring 2500 Years of Philosophy
"The Brain On Trial" Edition


I don't have a particularly high opinion of philosophy. But jeez, man, I really get tired of these breathless pop science pieces that pretend that "neuroscience" has somehow discovered the problems that philosophy has been wrestling with for...ever.

perhaps even more irksome is the suggestion here that any of this is big news. BRAIN DAMAGE CAN UNDERMINE FREE WILL...lordy, lordy, stop the presses...

Then there is the suggestion that this forces us to re-conceptualize responsibility in the law...whereas, in fact, it is entirely consistent with the legal and philosophical tradition. Some acts are free and some aren't. And if they aren't, then you are not responsible for them. (On the borderline: responsibility is mitigated.) Oh and: irrelevant pseudo-scientific footnote: stuff that happens to your brain is one kind of thing that can undermine responsibility (see above).

But then there is the other aspect of all this: the suggestion that any of this proves that no actions are free. Which, of course, it does not. Hard determinism remains a live option...but nothing about brain tumors and so forth provides any evidence for it.

Man. Apparently all you have to do to get published these days is stick a picture of a brain scan on your article...


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