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How the Mind Works. How the Mind Works. (1997). Steven Pinker. W.W. Norton. Human Nature. A denial of human nature, no less than an emphasis on it, can be warped to serve harmful ends. Both l iberal (unfair leveling) and conservative (utilitarianism, elitism) Some basic assumptions:

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how the mind works

How the Mind Works

How the Mind Works. (1997). Steven Pinker. W.W. Norton

human nature
Human Nature
  • A denial of human nature, no less than an emphasis on it, can be warped to serve harmful ends.
    • Both liberal (unfair leveling) and conservative (utilitarianism, elitism)
  • Some basic assumptions:
    • Human nature implies innate human differences that have noting to do with the structure of the brain, which is the same for everyone.
    • But the sexes are different and often think differently, largely based on how they are brought up – socialized.

Thinking differently or being different does not mean that we can discriminate against people on the basis of their race, gender, or ethnicity, which would be morally wrong.

    • Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance – fairness.
    • Gloria Steinem: “There are really not many jobs that actually require a penis or a vagina, and all the other occupations should be open to everyone.”

The naturalistic fallacy – what happens in nature is right.

    • Dog-eat-dog, violence, war
  • This fallacy does not consider a module-packed mind that allows for innate motives that lead to evil acts or for innate motives that can avert them.
  • Mental life is often a struggle between desire and conscience.

A richly structured mind allows for complicated negotiations inside the head.

    • One module (the rider) could subvert the ugly designs of another (the elephant).
  • Nature does not dictate what we should accept or how we should live our lives.
  • We determine our happiness and virtue.

Can we blame bad behavior on our genes or chemistry or family upbringing or society?

    • Can a rapist say, “My genes made me do it?”
    • Can a killer use the Twinkie Defense?
  • Are we not the masters of our fate?
  • In the scientific age we must explain behavior as a complex interaction among:
    • The genes
    • The anatomy of the brain
    • The biochemical state
    • Family upbringing
    • The way society has treated a person
    • The stimuli that impinge upon a person

In 1993 scientists identified a gene associated with uncontrollable violent outbursts.

    • “Someday a cure for hockey.”
  • But without a clear moral philosophy, any cause for behavior could be taken to undermine free will and moral responsibility.

Two games: science and ethics

    • The science game treats people as material objects and its rules are the physical processes that cause behavior through natural selection and neurophysiology.
    • The ethics game treats people as equivalent, sentient, rational, free-willed agents, and its rules are the calculus that assigns moral value to behavior through the behavior’s inherent nature or its consequences.

Free will is an idealization of human beings that makes the ethics game playable.

  • Ethical theory sees people as free, sentient, rational agents whose behavior is uncaused.
  • As long as there is no outright coercion or gross malfunction of reasoning, the world is close enough to the idealization of free will that moral theory can be applied to it.

Science and and morality are two separate spheres of reasoning.

  • Only by recognizing them as separate can we have them both.
  • The mind is highly complex and is designed to play both the science game and the ethics game and apply the rules appropriately.

“Twilight Zone” story.

  • So, is it right (ethical) to kill a robot?