Persons and Their Minds: Höffe’s Action Theory and Differentiation between Dogmatic and Methodological Determinism

(Presented at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, July 14, 2012)

Presentation Outline at the End of This Document


In the early 1980s, Libet’s documentation of the neuro-activity prior to the application of the will (“mind time” based on Deecke and Kornhuber’s notion of Bereitschaftspotential) suggested an exclusively materialistic, neurological cause for “voluntary” action.  Complementing Libet’s reductionism, Churchland sees no connection between non-material values and the brain to propose that there are no universal, moral “principles.”  She argues from Aristotle’s notion of “moral virtue” that morality is the consequence of habitual, pragmatic behavior in particular circumstances (only?) and vilifies moral “system builders” (e.g., Bentham and Kant) for their search for “exceptionless rules” (corretly?).

This paper presents Höffe’s theory of action that affirms (!) a material condition for action but insists that action involves a more temporally complex process than mere neuro-activity in the present.  Furthermore, by distinguishing between dogmatic determinism (there can be only physical causal explanations) and methodological determinism (the assumption that there are physical causal explanations at the base (!) of all experience), Höffe makes room for creative freedom (differently than Searle’s “causal gap” makes room for free will) and self-legislated (not heteronomously imposed), absolute moral principles in the form of a necessary as if that makes all the difference for understanding the human species.

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