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View of Man and Neurosciences

Project-speaker: Prof Dr Dr Thomas Fuchs

Participating: W Brugger , A Draguhn, W Härle, J Halfwassen, H Kiesel, J Wassmann


The neuroscientifical project of naturalization of mind has advanced so far in the meantime, raising the question for the relation of brain and person, for the borderlines of personal freedom as well as for the limits of practicable operations of the brain. The project will tackle the problem under three aspects: 1. Effects of the knowledge of brain research on social practice in certain individual disciplines; 2. Neurobiological conditions of personal autonomy; 3. Freedom and determinism.


A) Brain Research and Society - Conditions and Potentials of the Dialogue

This project investigates the present dialogue between brain research and society. Based on three selected examples it shall be investigated at first, what kind of demands on the part of brain research are put forward, how they will be justified, and at what stage the technical applications are. Subsequently the reception of the latest findings in these fields of practice up to now shall be investigated. About it, the following questions are taken interest above all: How do findings in neurobiology influence our view of man? With which traditions does it come into conflict? How does the conceptual and operational transfer between brain research and the reference disciplines work out?

 1. Psychiatry and Applied Psychology

The launch of highly effective psychotropic drugs presents itself to pharmacological manipulative treatment of cognitive performances or behavior patterns with persons, who are not ill in the narrower sense. This expansion of medicine shall be investigated exemplarily with methylphenidate in the treatment of the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHS) with children. How has practice in dealing with learning and behavioral disorders changed? Which fundamental questions are touched from this in dealing with children? Which changes result from this technique for society (e.g. hospitalization of behavioral characteristics i.e. conversely, influence of social performance expectations on medical practice), and how are these discussed in public.

2. Brain Research and Education

The maturation of the high-grade three-dimensional brain in interaction with social environment is an essential object of brain research. With that, educational receptions in view of chances and threats could win a central significance too. Anyhow neurobiological findings are hardly accepted into teaching methods, curricula, and valuations of the educational system in Germany so far. A thorough stocktaking shall present in detail, which applicabilities of brain research will present itself in the educational system, and whether and how it will be acceptable in education and educational policy, and which obstacles will bar it's way. At the example of this to a great part still hypothetical foundation in reality, it will be specially investigated to what extent the dialogue is hindered by different language and field traditions.

3. Brain Research, Philosophy of Law, and Criminal Law

According to prominent brain researchers, the criminal liability of guilt conflicts with latest findings on the freedom of action. An extreme position stipulates the constraint on behavioral corrections for criminal law by waiver of the perception of guilt. A less radical postulation is to include latest scientific findings, which should lead to an expansion of facts of diminished responsibility, for instance with subtle disorders of the frontal brain after stress in early childhood. An investigation of the dialogue between brain research and criminal law shall bring out the different concepts and formulations of liability in both fields, originating from a stocktaking of the latest findings. Building up on that, it shall be investigated, whether and in what way handed down understandings of guilt and liability need to be restated.

B) The Brain – An Organ of Freedom? Anthropological and neurobiological concepts of personal autonomy 

The project shall walk new paths in the discussion on personal autonomy by
a) - correlating the anthropological requirements of personal autonomy with the findings of neurobiology, and with it in particular consider those specific features of the development of the human brain, which enable man to increasing degrees of freedom in the process of his phylogeny and ontogenesis. In particular specific functions of the frontal brain are part of it, that underlie the regulation of emotional impulses and the ability to taking over perspectives i.e. "Theory of Mind“.

b) - correlating the concept of personal autonomy with various conditions of socialization, which on the one hand – in the Western societies – promoted the development of an "eccentric“ position (Plessner) and self-determination, on the other hand – in the Pacific societies – rather helped along a "socio-centric“ personal development.
Thus the project shall investigate biological and socio-anthropological interpretations of the development of personal autonomy for a potential convergence or divergence.

C) Determinism and Freedom

The project part chooses a new approach to the problem of freedom of action and will, which is oriented towards the intellectual biography of particular thinkers. At the same time the development of personalities shall be reconstructed, who carried out a clearly discernible change from one conception, that ascribes freedom of action and will to man, to an opposite position, in which man is considered to be basically dependent with regard to his actions and means – or an opposite change. Clearly identifiable candidates for the one position (with consequences in world history) are Martin Luther, for the other Jonathan Edwards and William James. Further there are several thinkers, where a fluctuation in phases between both conceptions is cognizable: Augustinus, Fichte, and Schelling.

The project team will use the notional pair determinism and freedom as working concepts providing, that both notions need clearing up to a high degree, and have to be under review for appropriateness during project progression continually. The attention is directed in particular to, what experiences, insights, conceptional or notional decisions were decisive for the respective thinkers' reorientation. These factors should be investigated in concerted interdisciplinary work for their acceptability or problematic nature, persuasiveness or incorrectness. It would be ideal, if two pieces of research could be carried out in this connection with thinkers of opposite directions, who on the one hand are so independent of each other, that the respective position can be worked out as clearly as possible, and on the other hand so oriented towards each other as well, that the respective deliverables can be compared with each other usefully.

Latest Revision: 2011-12-20
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