Our ethical obligations to another being depend at least in part on that being’s capacity for a mental life. Our usual approach to inferring the mental state of another is to reason by analogy: If another being behaves as I do in a circumstance that engenders a certain mental state in me, I conclude that it has engendered the same mental state in him or her. Unfortunately, as philosophers have long noted, this analogy is fallible because behavior and mental states (...) are only contingently related. If the other person is acting, for example, we could draw the wrong conclusion about his or her mental state. In this article I consider another type of analogy that can be drawn between oneself and another to infer the mental state of the other, substituting brain activity for behavior. According to most current views of the mind–body problem, mental states and brain states are non-contingently related, and hence inferences drawn with the new analogy are not susceptible to the alternative interpretations that plague the behavioral analogy. The implications of this approach are explored in two cases for which behavior is particularly unhelpful as a guide to mental status: severely brain–damaged patients who are incapable of intentional communicative behavior, and nonhuman animals whose behavioral repertoires are different from ours and who lack language. (shrink)
Personhood is a foundational concept in ethics, yet defining criteria have been elusive. In this article we summarize attempts to define personhood in psychological and neurological terms and conclude that none manage to be both specific and non-arbitrary. We propose that this is because the concept does not correspond to any real category of objects in the world. Rather, it is the product of an evolved brain system that develops innately and projects itself automatically and irrepressibly onto the world whenever (...) triggered by stimulus features such as a human-like face, body, or contingent patterns of behavior. We review the evidence for the existence of an autonomous person network in the brain and discuss its implications for the field of ethics and for the implicit morality of everyday behavior. (shrink)
The central claim of my original target article was a modest one (that modularity does not always hold) but it was misinterpreted as a much stronger one (that modularity never holds). Further confusions arose from multiple valid usages of the term and the similarity of the terms and Despite the limited nature of the claim, I maintain that it poses a stubborn problem for neuropsychology, not to be dispelled by new empirical methods or a priori reasoning.