I read Tor Nørretranders’ book “The User Illusion”:
when it was published and have been a keen follower of Daniel Dennett’s works, especially those on consciousness and free will:
I recently started following up the research in Neuro-Psychology around this subject:
Benjamin Libet (who died last month)
and Daniel Wegner
being major contributors.
What seems to arise from the empirical investigations strongly implies that:
If Free Will exists, it is difficult to contend that Free Will is exercised by what we recognize as our Conscious Mind; if it is locatable anywhere, it is deep within the unconscious brain.
A corollary of this is that Personal Responsibility cannot be placed empirically on our conscious mind.
This proposition may be referred to as “Free Will occurs, if at all, in the Unconscious Mind”
If this is true (and for the purposes of this post I would ask that we accept that this is the case) then what does this say about our current moral stance.
Key questions are:
We ‘excuse’ people from moral responsibility for of certain their acts if:
They have some psycho-biological conditions (Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Paranoid and other Psychotic beliefs etc.)
They have certain excuses under the law (Diminished Responsibility, M’Naghten rules etc.)
These excuses are based on the fact that the conscious mind is unable to control the acts of the person.
If the above proposition is true, how do currently non-excusable acts (obesity and anorexia, alcoholism and other substance abuse, criminality, sexual perversions etc.) from those currently excusable acts.
My view is that if the Proposition is true, then it removes much of the basis of our current moral stance and suggests that alternative measures to current sanctions (punitive imprisonment, compulsory medication, social exclusion, blaming etc.) might be more empirically justified, and that our current moral stance is unscientific in its premises and prescriptions.
I welcome any discussion of the above as I am trying to integrate it into a social care course and would like to see what type of response might be made to the Proposition.
I am aware that people may wish to debate the underlying proposition itself and would ask that this discussion (if it ensues) occurs in the concurrent post I am making (link to follow).