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25: NOV 24
- Radio Lab Episode on Blame and Moral Responsibility
- Henrich, Joseph, "Hell, Free Will, and Moral Universalism" from The WEIRDEST People on Earth p. 146-148, (2)
End of Term Work
- Time to get your grading schemes finalized and equal to 100% (1.0). Please! Plenty of time for optional assignments, especially if you get going on them over the break. Journals are now limited to 5% (3 journals), but welcome. Please check with me on your topic choices for optional papers.
- Time to take lessons from structured writing exercises. Justified Partiality papers will receive letter grades. How. Final Essay receives letter grade.
- Final Work
- Points assignment involving brief research and post on "New Approaches to Value Conflict" (Working on this for 12/1.
- Final Essay. I will ask you to write a 1,000 word essay on the last unit. We will have a specific prompt on 12/1, but you should already be thinking about the major questions. Instead of our usual method, we will have a rough draft deadline and you will be asked to review four papers (for 12 points) and you will receive backevaluations for up to 10 more points.
Radio Lab Episode on Blame and Moral Responsibility
- Segment 1: Story of Kevin and his wife, Janet. Kevin is arrested for child pornography.
- 15 years earlier. Epilepsy seizures returned after surgery two years earlier. Can't drive so he meets Janet from work, who drives him to work. Romance... Still more seizures. Another surgery. Music ability in tact. But then his food and sexual appetite grew, played songs on the piano for hours. Disturbing behavior. Really disturbing behavior.
- Reporter tries to get at who it was who did it. Kevin claims compulsion. downloads and deletes files.
- Orin Devinsky: neurologist testified in court that it wasn't Kevin's fault.
- Neurological dive: deep parts of our brain can generate weird thoughts, but we have a "censor". Maybe Kevin lost that part of his brain. Observed in post-surgery monkeys.
- Lee Vartan -- Can't be impulse control. porn at home, but not at work. He must have known that it was wrong. Teret's can be circumstantially triggered even though it is clearly neurological. Poignant exchange with Janet about staying in the relationship. Kluwer-Bucy. Months before sentencing. Medication makes him normal, but eliminates his libido. 5 yrs. - home arrest. Judge ackn. prosecutor's point. You could have asked for help. (Reflect on this a bit.) 26 months federal prison 25 months of house arrest. 2008-2010.
- 4 minute discussion questions: Do you agree with prosecutor's Vartan's point? Why or why not? What would your sentence have been?
- Segment 2: Blame - person or brain.
- Nita Frahany - neurolaw professor (law and philosophy!). Might be lots of cases. (argument: isn't this just like blame everything else for what you do wrong? Isn't it too easy?). Thought experiment: deaf person, child in burning building. "emotional inability" would also be damage to a physical structure (as in the ear).
- David Eagleman, neuroscientist - makes critical point: neuroscience isn't so precise. New technologies will show us how experience is written in our brain. (Back to Descartes. wrong.) Slippery slope, the brain is always involved. Blameworthiness might be the wrong question. Person vs. biology doesn't really make sense anymore. The "choosey" part of the brain (the homonculus!). 36:00 minutes. Funny exchange. Self-modification comes up.
- Claim: Legal system should drop moral blame. Adopt utilitarian approach. Predict recidivism. Point system exists. Better than people (50% accurate). System 70%. Currently there is appearance bias for example.
- A point system might be very predictive, but you might not want to convict someone of a future crime. Would it be?
- Frahany - Blame might serve social function of articulating norms.
- 4 minute discussion questions: Frahany thinks there are lots of cases of the criminal justice system punishing unfairly. Are you persuaded? If so, does a utilitarian approach (with or without the point system) make sense?
- Segment 3: Dear Hector
- Bianca Giaver (producer) - Hector Black. Hector's backstory - joins civil rights movement, adopts Patricia, a neglected child. Patricia's story (becomes a beautiful and productive person) -- Patricia is murdered. Hector considers whether he wishes the death penalty for him. Hector's statement -- 48min. Writes a letter of forgiveness to the murderer. Ivan's story - son of schizophrenic mom, beat him, horror. Do we still blame Ivan the same way. Hector tells his story. Many letters exchanged. A strange bond. Hector has self-doubts - sending care packages to Ivan???. (Maybe he's just a weird guy.)
- Ivan tells the original story of Patricia's murder. Ivan hears a voice that sometime comes to him. Commits the murder. Can't make sense of it.
- 4 minute discussion questions: Does Ivan's story change your view of the kind of threat he poses -- one from choosing evil/failing a responsiblity vs. compulsion?
Henrich, Joseph, "Hell, Free Will, and Moral Universalism"
- This excerpt from The WEIRDEST People in the World comes in the context of a section on "universal moralizing gods" which characterize the major world religions (though Buddhism requires some discussion). H's theory is that this cultural innovation in religions allows societies to grow, solving the problems associated with living with so many strangers, something our evolved psychology did not really prepare us for.
- The three innovations of moralizing religions are:
- contingent afterlife:
- free will: encouraged follower to believe they could comply with moral code by acts of choice and will.
- moral universalism:
- The rest of the excerpt goes into evidence of the effects of each feature on social life. The research related to free will is at top of p. 148.
- What consequences, if any, does this research have for our thinking about the modern problems of free will and moral responsibility?
- Maybe -- Cultural variants on ways of thinking about agency make real differences in social morality...
- Maybe -- Free will has its origins in psychological adaptations that allow us to live in large societies.
- Maybe -- The philosopher's concern with the metaphysical problem of free will is hard to reconcile with the cultural utility of a belief in free will.
- Maybe -- We have more reason now to separate what we tell our kids (You can do it if you try. Don't let other people control your decisions. What do you want to do with your life?) from what we know (?) about the ways that agency can be compromised or broken. The first way of talking seems justified even if the reality is that our failures are often the result of forces we have marginal control over.
- Does this research tell us that punishment (and one modelled on hell?) is atavistic or useful in shaping our thinking and policy?
- Do these lines of thought strengthen or weaken (or leave unchanged) our commitment to moral responsibility as retribution?