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We do not have souls. Briefly,

1. There is no evidence for a soul.
2. The mind appears to depend on the brain (i.e. trauma leading to odd characteristics). Adding a soul to this (soul is expressed through the brain, so the brain being damaged inhibits the expression of the soul) is purely ad hoc.
3. No coherent mechanism for interaction between the physical brain and an immaterial soul.

There’s more here, if you’re interested.

This leaves our mental functions wholly dependent on natural factors. The precise weighting of the influence of genes and environment is irrelevent here. What genes we have are outside of our control. The environment in which our mind is shaped is also out of our control until a certain age. By this time, our character has been shaped to a significant degree. We have only limited control over our environment as an adult.

So, we have no control of the factors that make us who we are for all intents and purposes. This includes everything: intelligence, work ethic, physical qualities, moral values, etc. What about “overcoming” deficits in such areas? Your ability to “overcome” other mental or physical limitations is itself a mental feature and is determined by factors outside of your control.

Seeing as such limitations are outside of any person’s control, it is wrong to base moral judgements about such a person on them. For example, if someone murders another, it was not wrong under any circumstances for that person to do so. The action was not controllable in any sense, as the urges and decision to act on them were wholly determined by factors outside the control of any one person. Murder itself may be wrong, but the murderer bears no responsibility.

That was fun, wasn’t it? I wonder how hard it is to spot the flaw (or flaws; I could be missing one) in that argument.

Categories: Social issues
  1. S4R
    August 26, 2006 at 11:04 am

    I’ll just say that morality makes perfect biological sense to me, but I don’t know enough about evolutionary biology to comment in depth. It just seems logical that morality would be a useful tool to evolve in the brain to minimize in-fighting and protect us as infants when we are totally vulnerable.

    People don’t like the idea that the universe might not run in perfect accordance with our ideas of morality, or that there are people who will almost always take actions which benefit them most, whether it be fleetingly or permanently.

    I think Hume was the first to champion compatibilism between free will and determinism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume

    “Hume also maintains that free acts are not uncaused (or mysteriously self-caused as Kant would have it) but rather caused by our choices as determined by our beliefs, desires, and by our characters. While a decision making process exists in Hume’s determinism, this process is governed by a causal chain of events. For example, a person may make the decision to support Wikipedia, but that decision is determined by the conditions that existed prior to the decision being made.”

    “Compatibilists often continue and argue that determinism is not just compatible with free will, but actually necessary for it. If my actions aren’t determined by my beliefs, my desires, and my character, then it seems that they aren’t really my actions.”

    A man is born into a severely abusive family and has an abnormal growth or development in his frontal lob. At the age of 20 he rapes and murders a woman. The fact that his actions have a cause does not mean he should be set free. It’s the pragmatic action is to keep him out of society. This scenario doesn’t necessitate the moral idea of responsibility. He’ll likely continue to rape because he perceives it to his benefit. The world is an imperfect place as it pertains to human’s moral construct. People are born with conditions and/or raised in an environment which causes conditions that makes them “immoral” creatures. Wishing that they could have been a moral creature in a particular instance strikes me as flight of fancy.

  2. August 26, 2006 at 11:29 am

    I don’t disagree with any of that. Some of the unecessary fear that non-determinists have is that our justice system is unjust (heh) if there’s no moral component to punishing people, when there’s still deterrence, warehousing, and rehabilitation. That said, most people are revolted by the idea (probably rightly) that no one is morally (however you think we get those values) responsible for their actions, despite the fact that we can probably keep our entire system of justice without it. I agree, it makes sense to have those values from a biological standpoint.

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