I was led to this clarificatory job initially by some puzzlement from a philosopher's standpoint about just why free will questions should come up particularly in connection with the genome project, as opposed to the many other scientific research programs that presuppose determinism. The philosophic concept of determinism involves explanation of all events, including human action, by prior causal factors--so that whether or not human behavior has a genetic basis, it ultimately gets traced back to _something_ true of the world (...) before our birth. The philosophic problem of free will and determinism arises because this seems to undercut moral responsibility: How can we reasonably be held responsible for something whose causes we couldn't control? (shrink)
This paper attempts to connect recent cross-disciplinary treatments of the cognitive or rational significance of emotions with work in contemporary philosophy identifying an evaluative propositional content of emotions. An emphasis on the perspectival nature of emotional evaluations allows for a notion of emotional rationality that does not seem to be available on alternative accounts.
The category of emotions covers a disputed territory, but clear examples include fear, anger, joy, pride, sadness, disgust, shame, contempt and the like. Such states are commonly thought of as antithetical to reason, disorienting and distorting practical thought. However, there is also a sense in which emotions are factors in practical reasoning, understood broadly as reasoning that issues in action. At the very least emotions can function as "enabling" causes of rational decision-making (despite the many cases in which they are (...) disabling) insofar as they direct attention toward certain objects of thought and away from others. They serve to heighten memory and to limit the set of salient practical options to a manageable set, suitable for "quick-and-dirty" decision-making. (shrink)
Psychopaths are agents who lack the normal capacity to feel moral emotions (e.g. guilt based on empathy with the victims of their actions). Evidence for attributing psychopathy at least in some cases to genetic or early childhood causes suggests that psychopaths lack free will. However, the paper defends a sense in which psychopaths still may be construed as responsible for their actions, even if their degree of responsibility is less than that of normal agents. Responsibility is understood in Strawsonian terms, (...) as a question of our appropriate reactive attitudes toward an agent for what she does, and as distinct from the question of the agent's own motivating attitudes, which lead him to do what he does. The latter is the question more directly relevant to free will, though moral motivation normally depends on the capacity in early childhood to pick up motivating attitudes from others' reactive attitudes. Reactive attitudes based on hatred rather than anger (e.g. disgust or contempt) count as alternative forms of blame that may be appropriately directed toward agents manifesting bad qualities of will, even as a matter of motivational impairment. So psychopaths may still be said to deserve blame, even if they are incapable of modifying their behavior in response to blame. (shrink)
There seems to be evidence of a genetic component in criminal behavior. It is widely agreed not to be "deterministic"--by which discussions outside philosophy seem to mean that by itself it is not sufficient to determine behavior. Environmental factors make a decisive difference--for that matter, there are nongenetic biological factors--in whether and how genetic.
P.S. Greenspan uses the treatment of moral dilemmas as the basis for an alternative view of the structure of ethics and its relation to human psychology. In its treatment of the role of emotion in ethics the argument of the book outlines a new way of packing motivational force into moral meaning that allows for a socially based version of moral realism.
Popular and scientific accounts of the U.S. Human Genome Project often express concern about the implications of the project for the philosophic question of free will and responsibility. However, on its standard construal within philosophy, the question of free will versus determinism poses no special problems in relation to genetic research. The paper identifies a variant version of the free will question, free will versus internal constraint, that might well pose a threat to notions of individual autonomy and virtue in (...) connection with genetic research. Whether it does depends on the extent to which the genetic basis for behavior turns on behavioral incapacities. (shrink)
I use a version of the case in "sophie's choice" as an example of the strongest sort of dilemma, With all options seriously wrong, And no permissible way of choosing one of them. This is worse, I argue, Than a choice between conflicting obligations, Where the agent has an overriding obligation "to choose", And does nothing wrong, Once the choice is made, By ignoring one of his prior obligations. Here, "contra" marcus, Guilt seems inappropriate.