Colloquium: Beyond Free Will and Determinism How can neuroscience become relevant to moral …

Beyond Free Will and Determinism How can neuroscience become relevant to moral responsibility?

ABSTRACT: The rapid advance of neuroscience has generated an increasing interest in the question of how neuroscientific findings may become relevant to issues related to moral responsibility. Discussions of this question very often rely on two assumptions: first, the assumption that neuroscientific research goes along with a deterministic view of human behavior, and second, the idea that neuroscientific findings are relevant insofar as they shed light on questions of free will. I shall argue that both of these assumptions are misleading. The most elaborated philosophical accounts of moral responsibility emphasize that moral responsibility is a matter of possessing certain cognitive capacities rather than a matter of free will. According to these accounts, to be a morally responsible agent means to be someone who is able to grasp moral reasons and to act by the light of those reasons. This suggests that neuroscientific research can become relevant to issues of moral responsibility insofar as it can add to our understanding of these capacities. Taking this idea as a starting-point, I shall sketch a number of ways in which neuroscientific research can contribute to our understanding of the conditions of moral responsibility.