The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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UPenn professor gives lecture on moral, civil responsibility

The notion of traditional responsibility was challenged Wednesday by Stephen Morse, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, highlighting ideas from “new neuroscience.” In front of an audience of academic scholars and interested undergraduates, Morse posed questions brought about by ideas such as determinism that shed new light on the idea of moral and legal responsibility.

Morse is an expert in both mental health and criminal law. Professionally trained in both law and psychology, his work focuses mainly on individual responsibility in criminal and civil law.

Sponsored by the health professional honor society Alpha Epsilon Delta, as well as the Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility, Morse gave his lecture entitled “Determinism and the Death of Folk Psychology: Two Challenges to Responsibility from Neuroscience.”

Morse started off with theories involving his beliefs (and simplifying his argument) that the human brain is simply what controls human actions, and no other outside force or cognitive notion.

“I am a physicalist as well as a monist,” he said. “There is and always only will be matter and nothing further, there is no soul, no top down intelligence, now human brains can produce nonmaterial things like culture, but it begins with matter. The mind cannot separate itself from the body.”

Moving on to his main topics, Morse addressed the first major blow to moral responsibility: determinism.

“This is one of the actual criteria to the idea of responsibility,” Morse said, describing the idea that one can be accountable for moral and civil actions if one is acting of his own accord and not in response to a “deterministic” pre-established plan.

Morse, speaking to the idea of the death of “folk psychology,” said that “morality has three assumptions about human beings: One, we are creatures capable of acting consciously and intentionally for reasons, two, our intentions and reasons are causally explanatory, and thirdly, we are capable of common sense rationality.”

Morse explained that neuroscience today is leading scientists to believe that the knowledge of how the brain enables the human mind to act the way it does is as far from reach as ever, killing the traditional sense of psychology or “folk psychology.”

Throughout his dense academic lecture on psychology that he deemed “pointy headed,” Morse proceeded to dispel the two arguments that “new neuroscience” seemed to suggest might change the idea of moral responsibility.

Morse argued that “current neuroscientific discoveries do not undermine the traditional view of the person as a creature capable of acting for reasons that explain the person’s behavior.”

Morse simply concluded that “neuroscience does not yet undermine traditional concepts of responsibility.”

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