Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kaebnick's “Behavioral Genetics and Moral Responsibility”

Kaebnick, Gregory E. (2006). “Behavioral Genetics and Moral Responsibility” in Parens, Eric, Chapman, Audrey R, and Press, Nancy (eds.) Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 199-219.

Kaebnick explores three philosophical positions related to behavioral genetics, free will, and determinism:
1. Strong defenses of free will rejecting determinism.
2. Hard determinism, which rejects free will
3. Compatibilism, which accepts both.

The idea of agency is relevant to the discussion of behavioral genetics because of claims to genetic causation and questions of exculpation. It seems that few argue that genes made anybody do anything but the argument from predisposition begs a threshold question of how much is too much impulse. He raises an interesting question concerning the conviction of two individuals for violent crimes. One has a genetic marker for what is claimed to be criminality or violence and the other does not. If we are a product of genes and environment, then it is possible that they are exculpable as well. Is it right to say that neither have free will? I think not, again from cases of similar genotype or environment that so not commit crime or violence. He argues that behavioral genetics increases the sophistication of language used in the free will or determinist debate but not the framework. In other words, the timeless question is not in danger of being resolved anytime soon. Could this be, as Brock and Buchanan posit, because both rest on metaphysical claims that no empirical investigation can overturn? Ask Jim to expand on the compatibilist account because I do not see how human behavior can be fully determined by natural forces (genes) but still allow for free will except in relationship to certain types of behavior. How would we know if the social constructionist position has value? I agree with the idea of strong impulse versus overwhelming impulse as it relates to strengthening the free will position. If it is overwhelming, does this not point to lack of control or insanity as Edgar spoke to? He appealed to Kant and Wittgenstein as an alternative perspective that relied on the power of language and perspective to relay a different idea of free will. Kant believed that we must assume ourselves to be free for practical purposes even if did not fit with our scientific understanding of the world. We may not be able to ever to resolve the debate because of the metaphysical uncertainty of what genetics can reveal but as Wittgenstein claims, the language we use in this age will have to change to make for meaningful dialogue between nature and nurture, genes and environment, and responsibility and blame.

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