Existentialism is a concern about the foundation of meaning, morals, and purpose. Existentialisms arise when some foundation for these elements of being is under assault. In the past, first-wave existentialism concerned the increasingly apparent inability of religion, and religious tradition, to provide such a foundation, as typified in the writings of Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Nietzsche. Second-wave existentialism, personified philosophically by Sartre, Camus, and de Beauvoir, developed in response to the inability of an overly optimistic Enlightenment vision of reason and the (...) common good to provide such a foundation. There is a third-wave existentialism, a new existentialism, developing in response to advances in the neurosciences that threaten the last vestiges of an immaterial soul or self. With the increasing explanatory and therapeutic power of neuroscience, the mind no longer stands apart from the world to serve as a foundation of meaning. This produces foundational anxiety. This collection of new essays explores the anxiety caused by this third-wave existentialism and some responses to it. It brings together some of the world’s leading philosophers, neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, and legal scholars to tackle our neuroexistentialist predicament and explore what the mind sciences can tell us about morality, love, emotion, autonomy, consciousness, selfhood, free will, moral responsibility, law, the nature of criminal punishment, meaning in life, and purpose. (shrink)
If consciousness is "the hard problem" in mind science -- explaining how the amazing private world of consciousness emerges from neuronal activity -- then "the really hard problem," writes Owen Flanagan in this provocative book, is explaining how meaning is possible in the material world. How can we make sense of the magic and mystery of life naturalistically, without an appeal to the supernatural? How do we say truthful and enchanting things about being human if we accept the fact that (...) we are finite material beings living in a material world, or, in Flanagan's description, short-lived pieces of organized cells and tissue? Flanagan's answer is both naturalistic and enchanting. We all wish to live in a meaningful way, to live a life that really matters, to flourish, to achieve _eudaimonia_ -- to be a "happy spirit." Flanagan calls his "empirical-normative" inquiry into the nature, causes, and conditions of human flourishing _eudaimonics_. _Eudaimonics_, systematic philosophical investigation that is continuous with science, is the naturalist's response to those who say that science has robbed the world of the meaning that fantastical, wishful stories once provided. Flanagan draws on philosophy, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and psychology, as well as on transformative mindfulness and self-cultivation practices that come from such nontheistic spiritual traditions as Buddhism, Confucianism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism, in his quest. He gathers from these disciplines knowledge that will help us understand the nature, causes, and constituents of well-being and advance human flourishing. _Eudaimonics_ can help us find out how to make a difference, how to contribute to the accumulation of good effects -- how to live a meaningful life. (shrink)
In this essay we provide (1) an argument for why ethics should be naturalized, (2) an analysis of why it is not yet naturalized, (3) a defense of ethical naturalism against two fallacies—Hume’s and Moore’s—that ethical naturalism allegedly commits, and (4) a proposal that normative ethics is best conceived as part of human ecology committed to pluralistic relativism. We explain why naturalizing ethics both entails relativism and also constrains it, and why nihilism about value is not an especially worrisome for (...) ethical naturalists. The substantive view we put forth constitutes the essence of Duke Naturalism. (NOTE: This is a slightly modified reprint of Flangan et al 2007 of the same title.). (shrink)
If we are material beings living in a material world -- and all the scientific evidence suggests that we are -- then we must find existential meaning, if there is such a thing, in this physical world. We must cast our lot with the natural rather than the supernatural. Many Westerners with spiritual inclinations are attracted to Buddhism -- almost as a kind of moral-mental hygiene. But, as Owen Flanagan points out in The Bodhisattva's Brain, Buddhism is hardly naturalistic. In (...) _The Bodhisattva's Brain_, Flanagan argues that it is possible to discover in Buddhism a rich, empirically responsible philosophy that could point us to one path of human flourishing. Some claim that neuroscience is in the process of validating Buddhism empirically, but Flanagan's naturalized Buddhism does not reduce itself to a brain scan showing happiness patterns. "Buddhism naturalized," as Flanagan constructs it, offers instead a fully naturalistic and comprehensive philosophy, compatible with the rest of knowledge -- a way of conceiving of the human predicament, of thinking about meaning for finite material beings living in a material world. (shrink)
In this essay we provide (1) an argument for why ethics should be naturalized, (2) an analysis of why it is not yet naturalized, (3) a defense of ethical naturalism against two fallacies—Hume’s and Moore’s—that ethical naturalism allegedly commits, and (4) a proposal that normative ethics is best conceived as part of human ecology committed to pluralistic relativism. We explain why naturalizing ethics both entails relativism and also constrains it, and why nihilism about value is not an especially worrisome for (...) ethical naturalists. The substantive view we put forth constitutes the essence of Duke Naturalism. (shrink)
Traditional ideas about the basic nature of humanity are under attack as never before. The very attributes that make us human--free will, the permanence of personal identity, the existence of the soul--are being undermined and threatened by the current revolution in the science of the mind. If the mind is the brain, and therefore a physical object subject to deterministic laws, how can we have free will? If most of our thoughts and impulses are unconscious, how can we be morally (...) responsible for what we do? The Problem of the Soul shows the way out of these seemingly intractable paradoxes. Framing the conflict in terms of two dominant visions of the mind--the "manifest image" of humanistic philosophy and theology, and the scientific image--renowned philosopher Owen Flanagan demonstrates that there is, in fact, common ground, and that we need not give up our ideas of moral responsibility and personal freedom in order to have an empirically sound view of the human mind. (shrink)
Human beings have the unique ability to consciously reflect on the nature of the self. But reflection has its costs. We can ask what the self is, but as David Hume pointed out, the self, once reflected upon, may be nowhere to be found. The favored view is that we are material beings living in the material world. But if so, a host of destabilizing questions surface. If persons are just a sophisticated sort of animal, then what sense is there (...) to the idea that we are free agents who control our own destinies? What makes the life of any animal, even one as sophisticated as Homo sapiens, worth anything? What place is there in a material world for God? And if there is no place for a God, then what hold can morality possibly have on us--why isn't everything allowed? Flanagan's collection of essays takes on these questions and more. He continues the old philosophical project of reconciling a scientific view of ourselves with a view of ourselves as agents of free will and meaning-makers. But to this project he brings the latest insights of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychiatry, exploring topics such as whether the conscious mind can be explained scientifically, whether dreams are self-expressive or just noise, the moral socialization of children, and the nature of psychological phenomena such as multiple personality disorder and false memory syndrome. What emerges from these explorations is a liberating vision which can make sense of the self, agency, character transformation, and the value and worth of human life. Flanagan concludes that nothing about a scientific view of persons must lead to nihilism. (shrink)
The scientific, ethical, and policy issues raised by research involving the engraftment of human neural stem cells into the brains of nonhuman primates are explored by an interdisciplinary working group in this Policy Forum. The authors consider the possibility that this research might alter the cognitive capacities of recipient great apes and monkeys, with potential significance for their moral status.
The Geography of Morals is a work of extraordinary ambition: an indictment of the parochialism of Western philosophy, a comprehensive dialogue between cultural and psychological anthropology, recent work in empirical moral psychology, behavioral economics, and cross-cultural philosophy.
What, if anything, do dreams tell us about ourselves? What is the relationship between types of sleep and types of dreams? Does dreaming serve any purpose? Or are dreams simply meaningless mental noise--"unmusical fingers wandering over the piano keys"? With expertise in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, Owen Flanagan is uniquely qualified to answer these questions. In this groundbreaking work, he provides both an accessible survey of the latest research on sleep and dreams and a compelling new theory about the nature (...) and function of dreaming. Flanagan argues that while sleep has a clear biological function and adaptive value, dreams are merely side effects, "free riders," irrelevant from an evolutionary point of view. But dreams are hardly unimportant. Flanagan argues that dreams are self-expressive, the result of our need to find or to create meaning, even when we're sleeping. Written with remarkable insight, Dreaming Souls offers a fascinating new way of apprehending one of the oldest mysteries of mental life. (shrink)
There is a distinctive form of existential anxiety, neuroexistential anxiety, which derives from the way in which contemporary neuroscience provides copious amounts of evidence to underscore the Darwinian message—we are animals, nothing more. One response to this 21st century existentialism is to promote Eudaimonics, a version of ethical naturalism that is committed to promoting fruitful interaction between ethical inquiry and science, most notably psychology and neuroscience. We argue that philosophical reflection on human nature and social life reveals that while working (...) to be and remain biologically fit, humans also seek meaning in a way that conforms to a pattern recognized by Plato. We argue that human beings should seek “the good,” “the true,” and “the beautiful”; moreover, the proper measure of human flourishing is the degree to which humans achieve these three, in a maximally harmonious way. One potential problem with this view, however, is that it might privilege the role of truth, such that if there is a conflict among these three, what is good or beautiful should yield to what is true. But this seems to conflict with evidence from neuroscience and psychology (e.g. the study of positive illusions) which suggests that people with a tendency to form and harbor certain false beliefs tend to more easily achieve eudaimonia than do those for whom truth takes precedence in all domains. We argue that this conflict is only apparent: the false beliefs in question are not literally beliefs; instead, they are an amalgam of belief and desire, an amalgam that we dub, tertullian beliefs (or, t-beliefs). Among other things, what is distinctive about t-beliefs is that they are able to change the world, in certain specific ways, such that, strictly speaking, it would be erroneous to say of them that they aim away from the truth. Paradoxically, it is because they seem to aim away from the truth, that they are sometimes able to succeed in changing the world so that it matches what we desire, or, what we t-believe. (shrink)
Todd Moody’s Zombie Earth thought experiment is an attempt to show that ‘conscious inessentialism’ is false or in need of qualification. We defend conscious inessentialism against his criticisms, and argue that zombie thought experiments highlight the need to explain why consciousness evolved and what function(s) it serves. This is the hardest problem in consciousness studies.
For years a debate has raged within the various literatures of philosophy, psychiatry, and psychology over whether, and to what degree, the concepts that characterize psychopathology are social constructions that reflect cultural values. While the majority position among philosophers has been normativist, i.e., that the conception of a mental disorder is value-laden, a vocal and cogent minority have argued that psychopathology results from malfunctions that can be described by terminology that is objective and scientific. Scientists and clinicians have tended to (...) endorse the objectivist position, with some notable exceptions. (shrink)
There is a debate about the nature of addiction, whether it is a result of brain damage, brain dysfunction, or normal brain changes that result from habit acquisition, and about whether it is a disease. I argue that the debate about whether addiction is a disease is much ado about nothing, since all parties agree it is “unquestionably destructive.” Furthermore, the term ‘addiction’ has disappeared from recent DSM’s in favor of a spectrum of ‘abuse’ disorders. This may be a good (...) thing indicating more nuance in typing the heterogeneous phenomena we used to call ‘addiction’. (shrink)
Consciousness and evolution are complex phenomena. It is sometimes thought that if adaptation explanations for some varieties of consciousness, say, conscious visual perception, can be had, then we may be reassured that at least those kinds of consciousness are not epiphenomena. But what if other varieties of consciousness, for example, dreams, are not adaptations? We sort out the connections among evolution, adaptation, and epiphenomenalism in order to show that the consequences for the nature and causal efficacy of consciousness are not (...) as dire as has sometimes been supposed. (shrink)
This chapter presents a reflective, critical position toward the author’s own addiction and toward himself as an addict. It presents the question of whether addressing addiction as a disease is useful; the idea of addiction as a disease seems less useful in describing “what it is like” for the author than to say that his being was physically, psychologically, and relationally disordered. Despite his desires, he could not find a way to regain order and harmony within himself. It was only (...) the phenomenological possibility of feeling and being better that kept hope alive. The solution to addiction is social; other people who cared for the author personally, together with those with professional knowledge, assisted him in regaining some control that he alone had either lost or could not find. (shrink)
Owen Flanagan is a highly prolific writer and speaker whose work brings together results of research in several empirical disciplines overlapping with philosophy, particularly neuroscience and other areas of psychology. This book of thirteen essays, most of them revisions of work published elsewhere, exhibits both his intellectual and his stylistic range. Many of the essays are light and chatty, others analytical and slower-going.
Flanagan (1991) was the first contemporary philosopher to suggest that a modularity of morals hypothesis (MMH) was worth consideration by cognitive science. There is now a serious empirically informed proposal that moral competence is best explained in terms of moral modules-evolutionarily ancient, fast-acting, automatic reactions to particular sociomoral experiences (Haidt & Joseph, 2007). MMH fleshes out an idea nascent in Aristotle, Mencius, and Darwin. We discuss the evidence for MMH, specifically an ancient version, “Mencian Moral Modularity,” which claims four innate (...) modules, and “Social Intuitionist Modularity,” which claims five innate modules. We compare these two moral modularity models, discuss whether the postulated modules are best conceived as perceptual/Fodorian or emotional/Darwinian, and consider whether assuming MMH true has any normative ethical consequences whatsoever. The discussion of MMH reconnects cognitive science with normative ethics in a way that involves the reassertion of the “is-ought” problem. We explain in a new way what this problem is and why it would not yield. The reason does not involve the logic of “ought,” but rather the plasticity of human nature and the realistic options to “grow” and “do” human nature in multifarious legitimate ways. (shrink)
The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World is my attempt to explain whether and how existential meaning is possible in a material world, and how such meaning is best conceived naturalistically. Neuroexistentialism conceives of our predicament in accordance with Darwin plus neuroscience. The prospects for our kind of being-in-the-world are limited by our natures as smart but fully embodied short-lived animals. Many find this picture disenchanting, even depressing. I respond to four criticisms of my relentless upbeat naturalism: that (...) naturalism can make no room for norms, for values; that I overvalue truth at the expense of happiness; that I underestimate the extent to which supernaturalism has made peace with naturalism; and that I can give no account for why humans as finite animals should want to overcome our given natures and seek impersonal, self-transcendent value. (shrink)
An epistemic virtue is a personal quality conducive to the discovery of truth, the avoidance of error, or some other intellectually valuable goal. Current work in epistemology is increasingly value-driven, but this volume presents the first collection of essays to explore whether virtue epistemology can also be naturalistic, in the philosophical definition meaning 'methodologically continuous with science'. The essays examine the empirical research in psychology on cognitive abilities and personal dispositions, meta-epistemic semantic accounts of virtue theoretic norms, the role of (...) emotion in knowledge, 'ought-implies can' constraints, empirically and metaphysically grounded accounts of 'proper functioning', and even applied virtue epistemology in relation to education. Naturalizing Epistemic Virtue addresses many core issues in contemporary epistemology, presents new opportunities for work on epistemic abilities, epistemic virtues and cognitive character, and will be of great interest to those studying virtue ethics and epistemology. (shrink)