Sunday, July 16, 2006

Gazzaniga's Ethical Brain and Free Will

Michael Gazzaniga, the director of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Dartmouth College, has written a book called The Ethical Brain. Dr. Andrew Newburg of the University of Pennsylvania reviews the book here.

One things Gazzaniga makes clear is that if moral choices are ultimately reducible to neurophysiology of the brain, then persons are not ultimately responsible for such choices. That is, it seems nonsensical to condemn immoral behavior and praise moral actions.

Newburg writes that “the “insanity” plea hinges on the notion that the brain, not the individual, is responsible for certain types of deviant behavior… There is even some evidence suggesting that the brain does not have a full sense of free will, so it remains to be seen whether anyone can really be held responsible for anything at all.”

The reduction of “free will” to neurophysical constraints renders ethical theory impotent to making real moral decisions as to right and wrong. Only if persons have a free will that is not entirely a function of neurophysical constraints does it make sense to hold persons responsible for their actions.