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Author Topic:   Biology is Destiny?
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 100 of 129 (642458)
11-29-2011 3:10 AM
Reply to: Message 97 by Dr Adequate
11-28-2011 6:42 PM


Re: Mens Rea
Dr Adequate writes:

A good example of someone with no mens rea would be someone who drives while drunk because he is unaware that some malicious person has spiked his drink with alcohol. He could properly say that he had no mens rea.

On the other hand, consider someone who has a couple of pints and then drives under the false impression that the legal limit is higher than it actually is. This person possesses mens rea, because even though he had no intention to commit a crime, he possessed the intention to do the thing which is criminal, and this is all that is required for mens rea.

this may send us of down a long and deep rabit hole, but never mind, it looks quite interesting down there.

You've picked a bad example. Drunk driving is a law derived from statute rather than common law and is a strict liability offence [in the UK at least]. This means that the prosecution only has to prove the act (actus rea) - in this case that the driver exceeded a blood or breath level and was in control of the vehicle at the time - for the case to be proven. The defense can then offer 'reasonable excuse' which may or may not reduce the punishment. A reasonable excuse would be drink spiking if accepted as mitigation.

The important point is that the excuse does not allow a not guilty plea, whereas a mens rea defence of most common law offenses would. In our example, Fred would be convicted of drunk driving but not of murder (or at least he would have a possible defense.)

In your second example, mens rea as you describe it is not applicable. The defendant Is merely ignorant of the law, which is no defense.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 97 by Dr Adequate, posted 11-28-2011 6:42 PM Dr Adequate has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 101 by Dr Adequate, posted 11-29-2011 3:38 AM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 102 of 129 (642462)
11-29-2011 4:08 AM
Reply to: Message 99 by NoNukes
11-28-2011 10:38 PM


Re: Biology does not dismiss free will
nonukes writes:


Some mental derangements can affect mens re. But in particular, a lack of a moral compass is does not have that effect. If your reasoning does not allow for this, then it is wrong.

Ok, as we've decided to have a hair splitting legal discussion instead of a science based one and because it's what Stephen Fry calls QI [Quite Interesting] I'll clarify.

If the lack of moral compass can be shown to be so severe that the defendant did not and could not have known what he was doing (this would normally be a result of demonstrable physical brain damage or disease), he can't be found guilty of (most) common law crimes. This is because of the common law requirement to prove the intent of the act as well as act itself, beyond reasonable doubt.

Strict liability crimes are an exception - see response to Dr Adequate above.

Further, I'm absolutely sure that US and UK law are identical on this point as we inherited this bit of common law from you guys.

I can't answer for whatever mess you guys made of our laws once you got your excessively punitive hands on them......


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 99 by NoNukes, posted 11-28-2011 10:38 PM NoNukes has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 104 by NoNukes, posted 11-29-2011 8:56 AM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
Member
Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 103 of 129 (642464)
11-29-2011 4:42 AM
Reply to: Message 101 by Dr Adequate
11-29-2011 3:38 AM


Re: Mens Rea
Dr Adequate writes:


I'm not in the UK.

That's no defence but I'm sorry for your loss ;-)


Anyway, it suffices as an example of the sort of thing that would constitute having no mens rea, even if in some jurisdictions that does not constitute a defense. In the UK it would still be true that he had no mens rea, it just wouldn't matter.

Well, in general, I agree.

All I've ever been saying is that state of mind is a possible defence in law and that the defence comes from the common law concept of mens rea with regards to the various forms of criminal intent - knowingness and premeditation, negligence, recklessness and so on.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 101 by Dr Adequate, posted 11-29-2011 3:38 AM Dr Adequate has not yet responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 106 of 129 (642500)
11-29-2011 12:52 PM
Reply to: Message 104 by NoNukes
11-29-2011 8:56 AM


Re: Biology does not dismiss free will
Lacking a moral compass and acting without knowing what he was doing are two separate ideas, and I've already provided examples to illustrate the difference. Lacking a moral compass does not, in and off itself negate mens re.

Let's just try to agree the principle of the bloody thing or we'll be arguing for weeks about something that is incidental to the point of the thread.

The general point is that an individual can not be liable for a serious offence in law if he did not have 'a guilty mind'. One possible way of not having a guilty mind is by having a damaged brain. As is probably the case with Fred.

I find it difficult to believe that drunk driving is completely a strict liability crime in the UK, although I may be wrong. But if your buddies were to pick up your passed out drunk body off the sofa, dump it into a car, and the push your car down the highway, surely you could not be said to have the mens re to operate a vehicle while drunk if all you did was step on the brake and steer the car to the curb.

Having excess alcohol whilst in control of a motor vehicle is a strict liability offence in the UK - and many other jurisdictions. (Please don't let's argue about what 'being in control means' - just take it that being behind the wheel of a moving vehicle is usually enough.)

If it came to court, you'd be found guilty of being drunk in charge but you'd probably be given an unconditional discharge and the magistrates would be complaining about having the charge put before them.

It's far more likely though that no charges would be brought by the police (against the driver) or failing that the CPS would refuse to prosecute. The 'friends' that put you in the car would probably be prosecuted for reckless endangerment and whatever else the arresting officer/CPS could dream up.

In other news, I hear that the Norwegian mass murderer has been declared insane. So he's not going to prison but hospital (subject to the decision standing)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-15936276


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 104 by NoNukes, posted 11-29-2011 8:56 AM NoNukes has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 107 by NoNukes, posted 11-29-2011 1:31 PM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 108 of 129 (642525)
11-29-2011 3:31 PM
Reply to: Message 107 by NoNukes
11-29-2011 1:31 PM


Re: Biology does not dismiss free will
I'll agree to drop the whole thing without another word

No need to go that far :-)


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 107 by NoNukes, posted 11-29-2011 1:31 PM NoNukes has acknowledged this reply

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 110 of 129 (642650)
11-30-2011 11:45 AM


Neurology Matters
Philosophy usually divides morality into two types:
'descriptive' which is the sorts of rules derived by human authority groups (religions, clubs, states) - such as "don't eat meat on friday" "replace your divots" and "don't drive when drunk" and
'normative' which is the universal code of moral actions that humans possess such as those I described earlier (and several objected to). They're mostly of the 'do no harm' sort that google is so fond of - things like, don't murder rape thieve etc.

This is from the neurology papers I posted earlier:

Sociopaths lack moral emotions, empathy, conscience, or remorse and guilt for their acts. Although they have difficulty distinguishing between moral (victim-based) transgressions and conventional (social disorder-based), they have normal moral knowledge and reasoning. Sociopaths have instrumental (cold-blooded and goal-directed) aggression with decreased sympathetic arousal. On psychophysiological measures, they show minimal alterations in heart rate, skin conductance, or respirations when they are subjected to fear or stressful or unpleasant pictures, and they have reduced autonomic responses to the distress of others, as well as reduced recognition of sad and fearful expressions.

Which suggests to me that sociopaths know the (descriptive) rules but it doesn't inhibit their actions because the (normative) impulse not to do harm that is present in 'normal' people is missing. Fred's case goes further. Fred was driven to do the immoral deeds - his brain wanted them (while a 'normal brain would rebel against them).

The paper goes on to say that

Those who have committed violent offences have a high incidence of neurological changes. In one study, nearly two-thirds of murderers had neurological diagnoses, including brain injuries, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, dementia, and others. Neurological examinations often show marked frontal or temporal deficits or changes on neuroimaging or electroencephalography.

So criminals that commit serious crimes are also likely to have neurological pathology.
I'd like to hear what those that believe in absolute morality think of all this.

Life, don't talk to me about life.

Replies to this message:
 Message 111 by Modulous, posted 11-30-2011 11:57 AM Tangle has responded
 Message 117 by NoNukes, posted 12-01-2011 10:26 PM Tangle has not yet responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 112 of 129 (642681)
11-30-2011 2:32 PM
Reply to: Message 111 by Modulous
11-30-2011 11:57 AM


Re: descriptive and normative
I don't think that's quite right.

Is it right enough to get by, or do we have to run down the rabbit hole again?


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 111 by Modulous, posted 11-30-2011 11:57 AM Modulous has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 113 by Modulous, posted 11-30-2011 3:09 PM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 114 of 129 (642733)
12-01-2011 6:39 AM
Reply to: Message 113 by Modulous
11-30-2011 3:09 PM


Re: descriptive and normative
Modulus writes:


Your descriptions of normative and descriptive are in error

Just for info and completeness, my interpretation came from here:

Descriptive morality is a code of conduct held by a particular society or group as authoritative in all matters of right and wrong. It focuses on areas beyond no-harm, such as purity, accepting authority, and emphasizing loyalty to the group.1 Normative morality, on the other hand, is a universal code of moral actions and prohibitions held by all rational people, irregardless of their society or groups descriptive morality.1,2

Which in turn apparently came from here:

1. Haidt J. The new synthesis in moral psychology. Science. 2007;316:998-1002.
2. Wilson JQ. The Moral Sense. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster; 1993.

Edited by Tangle, : rubbish grammar


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 113 by Modulous, posted 11-30-2011 3:09 PM Modulous has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 115 by Modulous, posted 12-01-2011 7:04 AM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 116 of 129 (642773)
12-01-2011 1:53 PM
Reply to: Message 115 by Modulous
12-01-2011 7:04 AM


Re: descriptive and normative
Hmmm - ok, here we go down the rabbit hole again.

I don't like that definition of normative:

In its second normative and universal sense, morality refers to an ideal code of conduct, one which would be espoused in preference to alternatives by all rational people, under specified conditions

It's the word 'ideal' that's broken. It pre-supposes we know what's best and can choose or at least list the best morality and (presumably) aspire to it.

My definition says that the normative values are intrinsic to (rational) people. We have them like it or not and those that don't are not normal.

Normative morality, on the other hand, is a universal code of moral actions and prohibitions held by all rational people, irregardless of their society or groups descriptive morality.1,2

For the purpose of this thread I'm proposing that normative morality is a brain function, an emotion and a sixth sense that has sections of the brain allocated to it. It's not some notional ideal state, it's simply (sic) neurology and like all thing physiological it must vary by individual.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 115 by Modulous, posted 12-01-2011 7:04 AM Modulous has acknowledged this reply

Replies to this message:
 Message 118 by Dr Adequate, posted 12-01-2011 10:49 PM Tangle has responded
 Message 119 by Chuck77, posted 12-02-2011 1:43 AM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 120 of 129 (642832)
12-02-2011 4:28 AM
Reply to: Message 118 by Dr Adequate
12-01-2011 10:49 PM


Re: descriptive and normative
Dr Adequate writes:

Yeah, but your definition is wrong, so maybe you should find another word to express what you want to say.

Like I say, I didn't make up the definition it came from here:

Normative morality, on the other hand, is a universal code of moral actions and prohibitions held by all rational people, irregardless of their society or groups descriptive morality.

The Neurobiology of Moral Behavior: Review and
Neuropsychiatric Implications
Mario F. Mendez, MD, PhD

I accept that philosophy uses the word 'normative' to mean an ideal state and that science should probably use another one rather than bend the original out of shape. I think 'Normal' behaviour is closer to what the paper is talking about.

The point I'm stumbling to make is that strong moral behaviours of the 'do no harm' type (and others) are normal and universal in people - I don't think that is too contentious.

The new bit of information is that neuroscience is beginning to pin down areas of brain activity relating to those moral/behaviours/emotions.

This means that there is a moral sense (akin to sight, touch smell etc) with neurology to support it. i.e. Morality has a physical presence in the brain - it's not just a philosophical construct, we can touch it and change it. (And of course, it therefore can not be absolute - except as a philosophical or religious construct)

Now it's not at all surprising to find that morality happens in the brain - where else could it be? - but it is QI to begin to see the physical structures that do it.

To get back to the headline of is Biology Destiny? If we finally identify the seats of morality to parts of the brain the answer must be 'yes'.
To some large extents it must be - whether it's nature or nurture or physical damage that causes those parts of your brain to make you feel and act the way you do, the effect is the same; your brain made you do it.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 118 by Dr Adequate, posted 12-01-2011 10:49 PM Dr Adequate has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 122 by Dr Adequate, posted 12-02-2011 4:36 AM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 121 of 129 (642833)
12-02-2011 4:29 AM
Reply to: Message 119 by Chuck77
12-02-2011 1:43 AM


Re: descriptive and normative
See answer to Dr Adequate above.

Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 119 by Chuck77, posted 12-02-2011 1:43 AM Chuck77 has not yet responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 123 of 129 (642840)
12-02-2011 5:29 AM
Reply to: Message 122 by Dr Adequate
12-02-2011 4:36 AM


Re: descriptive and normative
Dr Adequate writes:


Well, I think it's more complicated than that.


It sure is

It's usually more like: "do no harm to group X, but do all the harm you like to group ~X"

We can invent all sorts of evolutionary Just So stories about kinship for that of course and maybe that's it's origin. But we also have the other side of the story - the descriptive morality that allows for various authorities to say 'this is right' and 'this is wrong' which compliments or overrides the more primitive emotions that are normal in us. (From memory, the normal response is immediate and instinctive whilst the descriptive response is slower and calculated.)

It would be very, very interesting though to see if the bit's of the brain that we've identified as responding to a bit of moral behaviour such as 'do not murder' react differently when asked to harm first a member of your own community and then someone from an obviously dissimilar one. Particularly in a war like situation.

I bet you a pint of warm english beer that there is.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

This message is a reply to:
 Message 122 by Dr Adequate, posted 12-02-2011 4:36 AM Dr Adequate has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 124 by Dr Adequate, posted 12-02-2011 7:04 AM Tangle has responded

  
Tangle
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Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 125 of 129 (642850)
12-02-2011 7:55 AM
Reply to: Message 124 by Dr Adequate
12-02-2011 7:04 AM


Re: descriptive and normative
Like you say, this is going to be complicated. Here are a few complications I can think of off hand:

1. The death of a hated enemy who has killed members of your own clan is likely to overide any higher level general impulse not to kill. I think we can put that down to natural selection.

2. It will vary enormously between individuals. My wife's immediate reaction to OBL's death (execution/murder?) was horror. But then she more or less rationalised it. I think I immediately rationalised it. It doesn't seem unreasonable to suppose that his followers felt it an immoral act at gut level. How that works, god only knows, but it would have been very useful to have us all in fMRI scanners to hear the news.

3. How you think you reacted to OBL may not be how your brain actually reacted. When we say that things happen at different speeds, we're often talking about milli-seconds. You are not conscious of the process only the outcome. (We know - and it baffles me - that the brain reacts to your request to pick up that beer BEFORE you are conscious of the desire to reach for it ie 'it' knows before 'you' do - go figure.)


Life, don't talk to me about life.

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Replies to this message:
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Tangle
Member
Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 127 of 129 (643043)
12-04-2011 6:58 AM
Reply to: Message 126 by Straggler
12-02-2011 8:01 AM


Re: Them and Us
straggler writes:

So you can argue (as I think you are doing) that we have an innate evolved sense of morality whilst also accepting that we don't always apply it consistently.

I think the rational parts of our brain, the more recentlty evolved parts, can overide the more primitive emotions of what we call morality so that it is possible for normal people to, say, kill when they are able to rationalise it.

But also because morality may actually be a physical sense - not just an idea or an ideal that is learnt - that has neurones associated with it, it will vary amongst individuals and sometimes simply be missing. So a psychopath can do things that normal people can not.

For example when psychopaths are given moral puzzles to solve, they produce very effective utilitarian solutions that normal people can't - they actually would be able to suffocate the crying baby in order to stop the Nazis finding the group of fleeing Jews.

I don't know where all this is taking me, I still waiting for either a neurologist or a christian philosopher to put me right. Meanwhile, I'll keep rambling.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

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Tangle
Member
Posts: 2320
From: UK
Joined: 10-07-2011
Member Rating: 2.3


Message 129 of 129 (643814)
12-12-2011 4:24 AM


Brain damage causes good?
It occurs to me that when we talk about brain damage and changes in the neural networks causing behavioural changes, they all seem to be negative.

I've spent an hour or so googling but so far found little evidence of brain damage causing philanthropy and good works.

I wonder if our default natural state is the selfish animal one and that pretty much all incidents that knock out chunks of our moral network just knock out the controls that prevent us behaving badly.


Life, don't talk to me about life.

  
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