Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Lose Your Self in the Loss of a Moral Universe . . .


Nina Strohminger and Shaun Nichols, reporting on "Your Brain, Your Disease, Your Self" (NYT, August 21, 2015), ask an increasingly relevant question for ageing populations:
When does the deterioration of your brain rob you of your identity?
Their answer? Not memory:
[But - one might protest - m]emory . . . is central to identity. And indeed, many philosophers and psychologists have supposed as much. This idea is intuitive enough, for what captures our personal trajectory through life better than the vault of our recollections?
Still, not memory, for as Strohminger and Nichols reveal:
We found [in our study] that disruptions to the moral faculty created a powerful sense that . . . [a] patient's identity had been compromised. Virtually no other mental impairment led people to stop seeming like themselves . . . . [N]either degree nor type of memory impairment impacted perceived identity. All that mattered was whether their moral capacities remained intact . . . . What makes us recognizable to others resides almost entirely within a relatively narrow band of cognitive functioning . . . . [and] only when our grip on the moral universe loosens . . . [does] our identity slip . . . away with it.
I wonder . . . would a 'newfound' moral skeptic's radical rejection of any 'true' morality have a similar effect on identity?

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At 8:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder if a radical rejection of morality is truly possible in the absence of some kind of traumatic event. In my long transition from fairly observant Catholic to atheist, my moral values did not change significantly. "Do unto others" is a universal maxim grounded in the evolution of our social species.


At 8:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I went through a rough period of radical skepticism but didn't act much different from the selfish person I'd always been . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:28 AM, Blogger Antony Trepniak said...

Dementia is a challenge to faith as it implies that morality has an organic basis and lies outside of our control. A "rejection of morality", on the other hand, would be a conscious process, but it could be seen by others as some kind of possession. A major difference being that the "radical skeptic" would be able - and no doubt more than willing - to try and rationalise his behaviour, whereas the dementia victim would merely state "This is just the way I am now.”

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Interesting article. Thanks.

Jeffery Hodges

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