Thursday, October 4, 2012

Responsibility and Brains: Your Brain and You

Responsibility and Brains: Your Brain and You
I’ll add here a speculation on a mechanism by which citing brain facts may lead us to assign people less responsibility than we should. Many reports of brain facts emphasize the role of some part of the brain. But we do not think of people as their parts: Jones is not his insula or his amygdala, Smith is not her frontal lobes or her neurotransmitters. So, some reports of background conditions in terms of brain facts may lead us to think of actions as the result of people’s parts, and thus not as the actions of the whole person. A corrective to this kind of mistake is to bear in mind that our encouragements of good behavior and our threats of punishment are addressed to whole persons. Whole persons generally do know what is expected of them, and in most cases knowledge of these expectations offsets deficiencies that may occur in some of our parts. Our brains are organized systems, and the effects of their parts can become visible only when the whole system is mobilized toward carrying out an action.