Will Neuroscientific Discoveries about Free Will and Selfhood Change our Ethical Practices?
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Over the past few years, a number of authors in the new field of neuroethics have claimed that there is an ethical challenge presented by the likelihood that the findings of neuroscience will undermine many common assumptions about human agency and selfhood. These authors claim that neuroscience shows that human agents have no free will, and that our sense of being a “self” is an illusory construction of our brains. Furthermore, some commentators predict that our ethical practices of assigning moral blame, or of recognizing others as persons rather than as objects, will change as a result of neuroscientific discoveries that debunk free will and the concept of the self. I contest suggestions that neuroscience’s conclusions about the illusory nature of free will and the self will cause significant change in our practices. I argue that we have self-interested reasons to resist allowing neuroscience to determine core beliefs about ourselves.
KeywordsBioethics Free will Identity Neuroethics Self
I would like to thank Jocelyn Downie, Françoise Baylis, Lawrence Burns, Sheri Alpert, Tim Krahn and Stephen G. Morris for their help with various drafts. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference “From the Brain to Human Culture: Intersections between the Humanities and Neuroscience” at Bucknell University in April 2007. I would like to thank my audience for their comments.
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