Law and Mind Sciences Blogs, Part 10

4 Feb

Experimental Philosophy

Experimental philosophy (call x-phi in short) is “a new philosophical movement that supplements the traditional tools of analytic philosophy with the scientific methods of cognitive science.” (definition taken from here)

The blog is coordinated by Thomas Nadelhoffer, who is currently pursuing a  two-year post-doc at the Kenan Institute for Ethic at Duke University. The substantive entries are mostly about recent papers. Although some of the blog entries are quite technical, a good number of the entries are fascinating and straight forward. The authors of the posts usually do a good job of explaining their findings in simple terms.

One post, talks about a paper on our automatic attribution of a variety of psychological state (feelings, beliefs, etc) as soon as we classify an entity as an agent. It gives an example:

The entry goes on to say:

If you know a little bit about neuroscience, you might conclude that it is not at all capable of experiencing pain… but even so, there could be a little voice within you saying: ‘Just look at it! Of course it will feel something if it gets hurt!’

The entry succinctly summarizes the conclusion of the paper:

People’s reactions to insects like this one show the trademark signs of an initial attribution of consciousness. (Indeed, there was even some evidence that people are covertly attributing feelings to plants!) Ultimately, then, the suggestion is that people are ascribing consciousness to everything they intuitively regard as an agent, whether they admit it or not.

Another post features a paper,Causation, Norm Violation and Culpable Control. As the author of the post clearly writes, in the paper they show

[N]orm violations cannot account for causal judgments apart from assessments of an actor’s goodness or badness.  In other words, what matters in judging an actor’s causal role in an event is whether he did something good or bad, not whether he violated a norm per se.

Other interesting entries includes: Perceptual Bias in Moral Judgments — a Puzzling Finding…! and  A Judge’s Guide to Neuroscience.

NeuroLaw Blog

The blog is created by the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law of Baylor College of Medicine. It discusses how discoveries in neuroscience could potentially provide guidance to how we make laws and best punish or rehabilitate criminals. One recent post poses questions sparked by a recent discussion about the possible effect of SSRIs (a form of anxiety and clinical depression medication) on moral judgment. Since courts can mandate chemical castration for sexually violent criminals, if SSRis are developed to act as “moral steroid”, would it be morally acceptable to change a violent, aggressive individual to a model citizen by a daily dose?

Neuroethics & Law Blog

This blog is self-described as “an interdisciplinary forum for legal and ethical issues related to the mind and brain.” It is written by Adam Kolber, a professor at Brooklyn Law School. The blog posts regular roundups from the Program in Ethics and Brain Science of John Hopkins University. In addition, it regularly features recent articles on law and mind science. For example, a featured paper talks about how “existing accounts of the constitutional privilege against self-incrimination are ill-equipped to address the doctrinal implications of safe and reliable forensic neuroscience.” It argues that the use of compelled neuroscientific evidence (brain imaging) is illegitimate “when it deprives the accused of control over her mental life.” in that it enables officials to obtain information directly from a suspect’s brain, therefore leaving the suspect no control over what information they would transmit. The paper argues that “prosecutors may not comment on a suspect’s decision to decline the testing, and judges should instruct jurors not to draw adverse inferences from a choice to decline testing.”

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One Response to “Law and Mind Sciences Blogs, Part 10”

  1. ivylea January 31, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    That grasshopper picture is a PERFECT choice! I would bet money that this phenomenon is more pronounced when the creature has a recognizable face. I personally can’t help thinking that he looks friendly and curious, two things I am very sure are beyond grasshoppers’ capacities.

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