Holism About Neurological Representation: A Primer, with Applications to Law and Morality
Posted: 16 May 2009
Date Written: May 18, 2009
What does it mean for brains to represent things? A brief review of the history of how philosophers and cognitive scientists have approached the problem of mental representation will serve as a stalking horse for the position I will present neurobiological evidence for: holism. Brains perform a mapping function, identifying salient features of the world by way of conceptual superstructures which link perceptions to action. This position gives us some clues as to where "law" and "morality" will be represented in the brain: in high-order state spaces containing what is salient for canonical legal and moral emotions and judgments. While some commonalities at the core of legal and moral situations (such as their social nature, their relationship to the common welfare, and to ideas about contract and consent) will drive localization of representation, what is salient will change from circumstance to circumstance, meaning moral and legal representations will generally be highly distributed in the brain. At the end of cognitive neurobiology's golden age, we should not expect to see anything like a "moral module," but instead a suite of faculties well-suited to allow evolved rational social animals a fighting chance to flourish in complex moral and legal environments.
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