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Erik Parens Describes Benefits of ‘Binocularity’

As neuroscientists learn more about the brain activity associated with human actions, will jurors be less inclined to think that criminals deserve to be punished? Will we question the concept of free will? Senior research scholar Erik Parens explores these questions in “The Stone,” the New York Times opinion page on philosophy.  

“To see what is right – and wrong – with the notion that neuroscience will transform our idea of just deserts, and, more generally, what it means to be human,” it helps to consider a strange-sounding metaphor” – intellectual “binocularity,” which describes the ability for us to see ourselves as “subjects,” who can make free choices, and as “objects,” whose experiences are behaviors are determined “by an infinitely long chain of natural and social forces,” writes Parens, whose essay draws on his new book, Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing, and a Habit of Thinking.

Parens suggests that it is in fact impossible to see ourselves as “free subjects and as determined objects” at the same time, but he says that failing to remember to see ourselves in both ways, using one lens and then the other,  “can lead to pernicious mistakes.” 

The Hastings Center Report A bimonthly journal promoting ethics in health, medicine, and the environment.
IRB: Ethics & Human Research A bimonthly journal probing ethical issues in human research studies.

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