Re: Individual choice, morality and free will?

From: Harnad, Stevan (
Date: Thu Feb 13 1997 - 09:53:55 GMT

> From: Beeching, Tabitha <>
> As I understand from today's lecture, cognitive psychologists use
> symbols, images and neural nets as a way of explaining the function of
> the brain. OK this is fine, these models give us a basis on which to
> work from in order to understand how the brain works but, can they and
> are they able to explain the more complex issues of human behaviour and
> thoughts? Are these the issues of whether there exists a mind as
> opposed to only the brain? How do cognitive psychologists explain the
> more complex human behaviours such as individual beliefs, morality,
> choice and free will?

First, even the simpler forms of behaviour are hard to explain, and
have not been explained: No one has explained how we can sort the
things in the world into the categories named in our language; nor
has our language capacity been explained. These are all part of
our behavioural capacity.

When all that's done and explained (and there will be quite a few Nobel
Prizes along the way) then we can perhaps turn to the more complex
issues you mention. Ethical questions are not really the province of
science, even cognitive science. We can study and perhaps explain
why we make the moral judgments we do, but cogsci certainly cannot tell
us what we OUGHT to do. As to free will, that's a tricky area to
which we will be returning later in the course. If you're interested,
look at the other Student Skywriting Archives on the subject thread
"Free Will" or the work of a physiologist called Libet.

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