Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Neurobiology of Assessing Punishment

279 days until the start of class.

Don’t mind me. I only stopped by to drop something off.

From Blame to Punishment: Disrupting Prefrontal Cortex Activity Reveals Norm Enforcement Mechanisms.

It is an article on the neurobiology of how the brain determines moral culpability and the severity of wrongdoing.

Of course, there is a distinction between what the brain does, and what it should do. For example, if we took brain scans we can determine what is going on in the brains of people who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old or that there are no genetic influences on intelligence. However, the fact that we can map the thought processes of people who reach these conclusions does not imply that those conclusions are justified. Similar, brain mappings of people who make moral judgments do not show that those moral judgments are logically sound or even that they make sense.

This is what I want to do as a moral philosopher – look at the logical relationships between the different features involved in “norm enforcement” – not just the mechanical process. This is how we can determine when the brain is functioning well, and when it is functioning poorly.

I wanted to put this here because I am going to be referring to it during the long holiday weekend. Reading this and the articles that it references is what I will be doing for fun and enjoyment over the next several days.

(And another article for future reading: Reinforcement Learning Signal Predicts Social Conformity)

(See also Editorial: What Determines Social Behavior? Investigating the Role of Emotions, Self-Centered Motives, and Social Norms)

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