Roger Scruton Takes on Reductionist Neuroscience

Some materialistic scientists make a logical mistake in assuming that mechanical descriptions of processes, and associations of human actions with particular physiological explanations, tell us the whole of the human story. That’s a bit like asking how Michelangelo was able to create such beauty and answering, “With a paintbrush.” Sure, without the paintbrush, there would be no Sistine Chapel ceiling; but without a Michelangelo, all the paintbrushes in the world are worth nothing.

Philosopher Roger Scruton takes on this neurological reductionism here:

“No doubt there is a part of the brain associated with mathematical calculations. And mathematical competence is an adaptation: if you can’t add, you won’t multiply. Does this tell us what numbers are? Does it solve the great philosophical conundrum of the foundations of arithmetic, or help us to interpret Gödel’s theorem? Of course not. It tells us nothing about mathematics, but only something, and something fairly routine, about the brain. Likewise, the neurononsense that I have summarised tells us nothing about the self, about free will, about God or about beauty. It associates ideas with parts of the brain; but it does not tell us what the ideas mean, or what they refer to. It tells a story about neurons, which cause my arm to rise; but it says nothing about what I do when I raise my arm. And the talk of “adaptations” turns out, on inspection, to be trivial. It tells us that the love of God, of neighbour, of beauty and virtue are not dysfunctional from the point of view of reproduction. Otherwise they would have all died out. Big deal.”

Thanks to First Thoughts.

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