Neuroscience and the Exaggerated Death of Responsibility

The Philosophers' Magazine, Vol. 64, 2014, Forthcoming

Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2014-20

15 Pages Posted: 14 Jun 2014 Last revised: 8 Nov 2014

Manuel R. Vargas

Philosophy Department, UCSD

Date Written: June 1, 2014

Abstract

A growing body of work in neuroscience is sometimes claimed to imply the “death” of free will and moral responsibility. While results from neuroscience can usefully inform our understanding of human beings, the startling nature of claims about free will and moral responsibility typically depend on understandings of responsibility, free will, or human decision-making that were implausible long before we had access to the results of neuroscience. A more telling test of the significance of experimental results is to consider the plausibility of responsibility and free will given our best accounts of them. That is, a genuine test of the significance of neuroscience on these matters requires something more carefully worked out than the armchair theories of free will and responsibility offered by neuroscientists. When we test experimental results in light of our best pictures of motivation and the basis for moral responsibility, the picture that emerges is not one where neuroscience is a threat. Rather, neuroscience emerges as one more supplement to a nuanced picture of the basis of moral responsibility.

Keywords: neuroscience, responsibility, free will, science, Libet

Suggested Citation

Vargas, Manuel R., Neuroscience and the Exaggerated Death of Responsibility (June 1, 2014). The Philosophers' Magazine, Vol. 64, 2014, Forthcoming; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2014-20. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2449904

Manuel R. Vargas (Contact Author)

Philosophy Department, UCSD ( email )

CA
United States

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