Journal of Moral Theology, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2014): 1-17

Moral , Person and : The Aristotelian-Thomistic Perspective in the Face of Current Challenges from Neurobiology

Martin Rhonheimer Translated by William Neu

EPRESENTATIVES OF TODAY’S COGNITIVE SCIENCES and neurosciences usually consider man as a mere organism whose cognitive functions are not only regulated through the brain or, respectively, the central nervous system, but indeedR have their home there. According to this view, it is the brain that feels, thinks, and decides. or freedom are supposed to be mere subjective epiphenomena or modes of perception of what happened before and was locked in the brain in the form of neural connections. But the idea that the brain feels, thinks, or decides is nothing other than an absolutization of a partial scientific . The part comes to be seen as the whole and in this way one loses sight of the whole which is the human person.1 Human persons are not just organisms. They are also organisms, but they cannot be re- duced to this. Modern, materialist neuro-biological is an advanced stage of the Cartesian dualism that split the substantial unity of the person into two substances. From this followed two directions, both erroneous, oscillating between spiritualistic and materialistic inter- pretations. The interpretation of spiritual phenomena as a superior form of biological structures comes from a certain tradition. In his later work, The Descent of Man, Darwin already asserts that human intelligence is distinguished from animal intelligence only in a grad- ual way, but not specifically. Everything would be a problem of the brain. Darwin argues as follows: unlike animals, the human brain is ca- pable of memorizing the sensory perceptions. Its memory is more

1 See T. Fuchs, Das Gehirn—ein Beziehungsorgan. Eine phänomenologisch- ökologische Konzeption (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 2009); see also M.R. Bennet and P.M.S. Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience (Oxford: Blackwell, 2003). 2 Martin Rhonheimer

developed. Since sensory perceptions stay in the brain, man must look back, but also ahead; at the same time he reflects on these per- ceptions and compares past impulses to his social instincts. Reflect- ing on the past, he becomes capable of controlling his behavior— judging it, improving it and adapting it to the future. According to Darwin, this is the basis of human intelligence and freedom. This is how and the conscience are born, and so these formulate sentences like: “I shouldn’t have,” or “I should.” Darwin says that all that is caused solely by the growing volume of the brain and the re- sulting greater memory capacity.2 The reduction of man—of his conscience, his thinking, feeling and wanting—to the brain, and neuron processes within the brain, is for the moment the last step of this development. This is why it seems urgent to recover the classical Aristotelian-Thomistic perspec- tive of the corporal-spiritual unity of the human person, of and the moral .

CLASSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY OF THE PERSON IN THE FACE OF NEUROBIOLOGY’S CHALLENGES The classical position has no reason to fear the modern neurosci- ences. For example, the thesis that without the brain’s activity, not only is there no sensorial activity, but not even thought or spiritual consciousness, is perfectly Aristotelian; it was already known by Medieval , for example by . But no neuroscientist ever proposed an argument to demonstrate that the brain’s neuron activity is a sufficient explanation for spiritual acts. Instead there are arguments to support the contrary. That is very important for a classical kind of of the virtues. As I would like to demonstrate, today’s neurosciences not only are not a danger or enemy for the classical ; but rather they come to its aid. Obviously, the brain’s development was a decisive and absolutely necessary prerequisite for the advent of spiritual functions in pri- mates like Homo sapiens—and perhaps, starting with a certain mo- ment, it was also a consequence. But when Darwin reduced human intelligence to a greater memory capacity (because of Homo sapiens’ bigger brain), he forgot his premise for holding such a position: the fact that, as he said, we can reflect on the past and therefore think and judge in anticipation of the future:

Hence after some temporary desire or passion has mastered his so- cial instincts, he reflects and compares the now weakened impres- sion with the ever present social instincts; and he then feels that

2 See C. Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: Penguin Classics, 2004), 680. Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 3

sense of dissatisfaction which all unsatisfied instincts leave behind them, he therefore resolves to act differently for the future—and this is conscience.… A pointer dog, if able to reflect on his past conduct, would say to himself, I ought (as we indeed say of him) to have pointed at that hare and not have yielded to the passing temptation of hunting it.3

Now, reflection is not only an index of consciousness, but also of self-consciousness. Notwithstanding how great the human brain’s capacity may be to memorize sensory perceptions and to hold them for long periods in such a way that they are available for reflexive judgment, this is not the true capacity; instead the true capacity is precisely that about which Darwin says nothing—the ability to re- flect and self-consciousness. Reflection and self-consciousness cannot simply be explained through the brain’s greater volume. No organ, nothing corporeal and linked to matter has the ability to reflect; in other words; these do not have the ability to make oneself object to him/herself. Sight cannot see itself; hearing cannot listen to itself; touch cannot touch itself. But reason can make its acts the object of its own thought—in other words reflect on them—and the can once again want or not want what it wants (and this kind of reflection is the basis of freedom); reason can even render sensory perceptions the object of its evalua- tion.4 According to classical philosophical anthropology, reflection pre- supposes what is immaterial and is the foundation of self-awareness. The cognitive indeterminacy and openness implied in the immaterial of spiritual acts are diverse aspects of the root of freedom and the capacity for abstraction of what is conceptual. In other words, they are root aspects of the capacity to draw the universal from the particular, and versa, to consider the particular in turn in the light of the universal, in light of the “ of things,” which then is the foundation of science, art, and culture. This particular characteristic of the spiritual, namely, the ability to reflect, is more than the mere awareness of the self, which was also experimentally observed in apes. The spiritual awareness of the self can be found at an irreducibly higher level. It is not only the ca- pacity to place oneself at a cognitive distance in the context of the surrounding world and to perceive in this sense “myself,” or my “ego,” as something different (like my image in a mirror for exam- ple—even apes can do this); but it is also the capacity to put myself in relationship with myself and not only with my reflected image, or

3 Darwin, The Descent of Man, 680. 4 Cf. M. Rhonheimer, The Perspective of Morality. Philosophical Foundations of Thomistic Virtue Ethics (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 175-182. 4 Martin Rhonheimer

my image in relationship with me. In other words, I can possess a mental representation of myself. Nothing makes us think that other higher primates, except for Homo sapiens, are able to do this. Exper- iments with apes seem rather to prove the contrary.5 Consequently, can the specifically human consciousness of the self, in other words self-consciousness, be traced causally to neural processes that are carried on in the brain, and thus be definitively explained through merely neurobiological categories? According to the late neurobiologist and physiologist of animals, Gerhard Neu- weiler, that is impossible.

Self-awareness escapes neurobiological analysis for more than one reason.... [Because] if the concept of spirit, expressed in all the cul- tural activities, is translated into neurobiological concepts, one enters into an inescapable entanglement of conscious mental processes, of emotional worlds and of motivations and fields of unconscious forc- es that, not the least of which, are reflections of our past and their emotional values.

For the spiritual life and especially for man’s linguistic capacity however, it is possible “to identify some minimal condition.” Even in animals and above all in anthropoids, there would be a “thinking” and a linguistic communication; however “no biologist until now has been able to demonstrate the spirit in any animal as it is manifested even in non-linguistic modes through artifacts in human .” And Neuweiler concludes: “The attempt to locate self-awareness and the spirit in some part of the brain would be absurd. Nevertheless every neurobiologist agrees with the thesis that neither self- awareness nor spiritual life can exist without the prefrontal cortex.”6 In other words, neurobiology can only make some affirmations about neurobiolgical conditions and about physiological presuppositions that are necessary for spiritual and cultural activity, but it cannot reach a sufficient explanation of these phenomena. These are precisely the distinctions missing for neurobiologists like Gerhard Roth and Wolf Singer. So, for example, the latter as- serts the following (italics are mine):

The only really significant among the brains of different mammal species is the quantitative differentiation of the cerebral cortex. Compared with other animals, and even only with respect to the size of the body, we—homo sapiens—have more neurons in the cerebral cortex. This brings us to the unpleasant conclusion that eve-

5 See, for this, D. J. Povinelli, Folk for Apes. The Chimpanzee’s of How the World Works (Oxford: , 2008). 6 G. Neuweiler, Und wir sind es doch—die Krone der Evolution (Berlin: Verlag Klaus Wagenbach, 2009), 196-98. Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 5

rything which constitutes us and distinguishes us from animals, and therefore everything that has made our cultural evolution possible, is evidently based on the quantitative increase of a particular brain structure.… It seems that all the spiritual qualities presented to our own perception have appeared in the world through the particular capacity of our brains.7

Here something is called “evident” without any explanation, and in fact it is not. What should be proven (“only the brain matters”) is presupposed as a premise. Furthermore, the sentence, “It seems that all the spiritual qualities presented to our own perception have ap- peared in the world through the particular capacity of our brains,” contains a mistaken conclusion. Singer does not distinguish between necessary and sufficient conditions. Neuroscience is capable of demonstrating that cerebral activity is a necessary condition for spir- itual acts, but not that this activity is also a sufficient condition for them.

REASON, CAUSE AND ROOT OF FREEDOM, AND SCHOPENHAUER’S FAILED ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE “Spirit” and “freedom” are not fictions or myths. Rather it could be said that they are the branch on which we are seated (and which it is better to not saw off). so fundamental, seemingly trivial, they are often ignored in their importance and exceptional natures. To accomplish spiritual acts, we need not to first know that some- thing like “spirit” exists. It is not even necessary to know that one has freedom before or while acting in a free way; nevertheless, we feel responsible deep down—even guilty at times—for our actions; we often have a bad conscience, or we apologize in other cases or we reject our responsibility. And all that demonstrates our conviction that we are free beings. Those neurobiologists, however, who reduce free will to neural processes in the brain and who consider the awareness of free acts an illusion—because in their opinion, the brain would have already made a decision prior to any awareness of deciding—make their ob- jection here: each one decides and acts as he or she is, in other words, according to what happens in his/her brain without their own wanting or their own initiative. As a consequence, they contend, we always only do what we are forced to do in any case. According to them, what we do is always determined by a cause, and this cause is a physical kind of cause.

7 W. Singer, “Verschaltungen legen uns fest: Wir sollten aufhören von Freiheit zu sprechen,” in Hirnforschung und Willensfreiheit. Zur Deutung der neuesten Experimente, ed. C. Geyer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004), 40. 6 Martin Rhonheimer

Therefore, the researchers examining the brain are allergic to phi- losophers’ distinction between “causes” and “.” According to the philosopher, men do not act because of causes, but because of reasons. What is only caused is never a human action, because it is neither voluntary nor intentional. Only when someone follows some reasons, in other words, when he or she chooses a determined action for a reason, has he or she completed an action. At this place, scien- tists still raise the following objection: the so-called reasons— inasmuch as they clearly, definitively motivate action—are them- selves nothing other than a certain kind of causes: they are mental causes. In the same way, even intentions would be mental causes.8 Therefore, if we were to explain for what reason (or with what inten- tion) someone does something, this would be explained—as in the case of Donald Davidson—as the motive of his or her action and consequently the cause as well. And so we would reach the same point again. In fact, the neurobiologist could now triumphantly say: the motives that we have are dependent upon what happens in our brain. With respect to our action, the brain is nothing other than a producer of motives (reasons), which are causes that determine our acting. Therefore, many neurobiologists like the way Arthur Schopen- hauer destroys the concept of the freedom of the will.9 For Schopen- hauer our acting is determined by our character and by the motives that depend on it. In the conflict among motives, our will would be determined by that motive—and exclusively by that—which is strongest. We do what we do, not because we want it in a free way, but because we can do nothing other than want what motivates us in the strongest way. Consequently, our wanting is simply influenced in a causal way by the last and thus determining motive of our action. Even the distinction between cause and reason is eliminated in this way, because “[e]ach consequence following from a reason is necessary, and each necessity is a consequence of a reason.”10 A per- son only wants what can be desired because of motives—exactly like water can make waves, throwing itself down in foam, freely climb- ing suddenly in the air or evaporating—on the condition that the cor- responding causes are given, according to Schopenhauer. In the same

8 See also my observations concerning the asserted incompatibility, but inexistent in , between intentional and causal explanations of action in Rhonheimer, Per- spective of Morality, 102 f., 181 f. 9 Cf. K.-J. Grün, “Die Sinnlosigkeit eines kompatibilistischen Freiheitsbegriffs. Arthur Schopenhauers Entlarvung der Selbsttäuscher,” in Das Gehirn und seine Freiheit. Beiträge zur neurowissenschaftlichen Grundlegung der Philosophie, ed. G. Roth and K.-J. Grün (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 89-105. 10 “Jede Folge aus einem Grunde ist nothwendig, und jede Nothwendigkeit ist Folge aus einem Grunde.“ A. Schopenhauer, “Preisschrift über die Freiheit des Willens,” in Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (Zürich: , 1977), vol. VI, 49. Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 7

way, “the will, like a weather cock on a well-oiled hinge in variable wind, turns immediately toward that motive which the imagination presents to it,” while we mistakenly think that we can freely will. In reality, we only follow that motive which has power over us.11 If this were how things were, it would be good news for the re- ductionist neurobiologist. “Character” would then be the composite of the connections of the neural network in the brain; the motives would be what produce neural processes (before we become con- scious); and our freely willed decisions, in the end, would be the coming to awareness of these motives and of the dominant motive provoking our actions. The “reasons” for acting would be reduced to a mere a posteriori on the level of subjective life, of what the brain would have already decided before. So the real reason for our actions would be found in our character (in other words: the composite of neural connections in our brain), and each voluntary decision would be linked in a causal way to a motive, and precisely to what would have been chosen as determined by the brain. Now Schopenhauer’s exposition is false in one essential point. On the one hand, it is true that reasons are motives, and motives are causes in the end. But if Schopenhauer were right, we should have the of passive subjects, fought over by different motives until the moment we finally follow one. According to Schopenhauer in fact, motives are derived from our imagination which in turn de- pends on character.12 But when we are indecisive, when we waver, when we reflect and deliberate inside ourselves, when we compare the plusses and mi- nuses of alternatives, or when we suddenly want something different, which in turn puts this same will in question, when we change, we postpone, or we become weak and repent afterwards: in all these cases we are not only merely passive subjects, contested between two imaginations, in the play of changes of motives that our imagi- nation produces. In reality, we are normally reflecting on the mo- tives—and it is precisely this component of reflection of which we are aware and in which we experience our will’s freedom.13 Freedom, however, does not mean acting without motives. Free action is not even a non-caused or non-determined action. Free ac- tion is rather caused by reasons. In fact, such reasons are causes, and they determine the will. But what distinguishes a reason for acting

11 Schopenhauer, “Preisschrift über die Freiheit des Willens,” 81-2. 12 See Schopenhauer, “Preisschrift über die Freiheit des Willens,” 82. 13 In this regard, see also the classical analyses of the second order desires by H. Frankfurt, “Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person,” Journal of Philoso- phy 68, no. 1 (1971): 5-20; C. Taylor, “What is Human ?” in Human Agency and Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 15-44; C. Taylor, “What’s Wrong With Negative ,” in Philosophy and the Human Sciences (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 211-29. 8 Martin Rhonheimer

from other kinds of causes? It is distinct inasmuch as it is a motive derived from reason. The English language (unlike the German) has the strength of possessing the word “reasons” (in German is called “Gründe”), which in contrast to the German alludes to reason, to ra- tionality. Reasons for acting, inasmuch as they determine free action, are therefore rational motives. That does not mean that free action is not determined. But such a determination of action is preceded by a conscious evaluation that can certainly be influenced in a positive or negative way by factors that do not come from reason, like emotions, habits, or environmental influences, for example. In any case, the reasons which cause actions are products of sub- jective-rational evaluation processes.14 They presuppose the exist- ence of inclinations and tendencies, but these are submitted to a ra- tional examination.15 On the basis of such processes, we then do what our reason presents to us as “good,” in other words, “what should be done here and now.” It is not possible to want something other than a “good.” It is possible to be mistaken, confusing what is really good with what appears such. But to move us to act, the mo- tive for our action must present itself under the form of what is “good for me here and now;” otherwise it would not be a motive. Once more we return to , precisely because this idea is the basis of all of his virtue ethics.16 So freedom should not be sought in the absence of constraints on the will with respect to motives, but in reason’s capacity to reflect on its own motives. With the word, “will,” we designate precisely that aspiration which can only be determined by reason. And this is ex- actly what is put in parentheses by Schopenhauer. He simply silences reason. As Thomas Aquinas taught, however, reason is precisely the “root of freedom;” reason is the root and cause of freedom because “the will can be attracted in different directions because reason is able to grasp the good from different points of view.”17 Human free- dom surely has its place in the will, but reason is what causes free- dom. The freedom of the will is not to be found in so called pure spontaneity—this is a Kantian idea—but in its being able to be de- termined and therefore actualized exclusively by reason (and at the same time, reason’s judgment in turn can be conditioned by the emo- tions in a positive or negative way, and be desired or refused by the will: intelligo enim quia volo, “for I understand because I will to.”18

14 J. Habermas, “Freiheit und Determinismus,” Zwischen Naturalismus und Religion. Philosophische Aufsätze (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2005), 159 ff. 15 G. Keil, Willensfreiheit, (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2007), 177. 16 Aristotle, , in particular Book III. For what follows: M. Rhonheimer, Perspective of Morality, chs. 2 and 3. 17 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 17, a. 1, ad. 2. 18 Thomas Aquinas, On , trans. A. Oesterle and Jean T. Oesterle (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), q. 6. Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 9

But inasmuch as it is a spiritual faculty, reason in its turn is able to reflect on and evaluate its own judgments; so the will has power over itself, and for different reasons, it is able to not want its own desire. This is precisely what all of us experience as freedom.19 Sooner or later, this process certainly reaches its term and this “last will,” which in fact becomes action, is really determined by reason’s last judgment, which is precisely a “reason” for acting.20 So Schopenhauer’s phenomenology is false, as anyone can see. We are not passively in play among the motives of our imagination, and we are not overcome in the end by the strongest motive. And even if this can happen at times, nevertheless, it is not the normal case for the evaluation and rational decision. Rather, we reflect on the ends, means, and motives; we deliberate, refuse, approve, change our opinion, etc. Neuroscientists avoid talking about the phenome- non of reflection as the devil avoids holy water. Notwithstanding that, it is constantly present to one’s conscience, which is always precisely the consciousness of oneself. How is it possible to explain reflection, judgments about judgments, the talking to oneself about the pros and the cons, the evaluation of alternative actions and mo- tives, if not through a certain independence of those acts from the corporal-material determination? What are the neural processes that correspond to reflection inasmuch as it is consciousness of con- sciousness, thought about thought, knowledge about knowledge, wanting (or not wanting) of one’s own desire? Or is there someone who is willing to contend that when we reflect, evaluate, and deliber- ate, the brain has already decided in fact, and that all reasoned reflec- tion inside ourselves about our reasons is a mere illusion, an attempt to rationalize, after the fact, what the brain has already decided? This is impossible since, according to the neuroscientists’ premises, we are capable of reflecting and evaluating only when the brain has de- cided nothing so far; as soon as a decision is made, the neurobiolo- gist tells us, we then become aware of it as it were a motive (or a reason) determinative for the action. Consequently, and if the neuro- biologist is right, reflection itself, the pondering of motives, should be caused in a neural way. But this would bring about an infinite re- gression, and we would become spectators—conscious spectators—

19 Rhonheimer, Perspective of Morality, 175-82. 20 With this understanding, I agree with P. Bieri, Das Handwerk der Freiheit: Über die Entdeckung des eigenen Willens (Frankfurt: Fischer, 2009), 287 when he affirms that in the end, “it is possible to want and do only one thing,” and that effectively, there is a determination of acting beginning with personal and resulting in a rational evaluation. From what I can see, this does not necessarily imply that the reflective subject is eliminated as participant in the process of evaluation and re- duced to a toy not involved in a natural, deterministic process. This is Habermas’ objection to Bieri (cf. Habermas, Freiheit und Determinismus, 162). 10 Martin Rhonheimer

of complex bio-chemical “processes of pondering” in our brain. This seems absurd.

PERSON, FREEDOM, AND BEING INCLINED: VIRTUE ETHICS AND NEUROBIOLOGY IN SUPPORT OF A REALISTIC CONCEPT OF MORAL REASON Nevertheless, Schopenhauer—and neurobiology with him—is right in one essential aspect, and here we touch upon the decisive point which I would like to reach: Free will is not a blank page, an original indeterminacy or indifference that is then rationally inclined to one side or another, only on the basis of rational reasons. The way that we think, judge, and decide—in fact—depends in large part on our character. It depends not only on the innate hereditary sense of character, but also on those qualities of character that we have ac- quired, that are the fruit of previous decisions, of ways of living, as well as from experiences of early childhood, influences coming from education, from socialization, and from the environment of life. Such character features are dispositions with respect to acting—Aristotle calls them (in Latin, habitus), which influence what seems good to us, and which guide our feeling and our wanting in certain directions. Those qualities of character or dispositions for action, which guide us toward what is good and right, are called virtues; those guiding us toward what is bad and toward a corresponding ac- tion are called . Virtues make us freer because they conform to reason and in this way they make it easier for reason to determine actions through some reasons; the vices attenuate freedom because they behave in a dysfunctional way with respect to reason and they favor action which has its origin in disordered passions and affec- tions, in excessive emotion, or even in this absolute irrational spon- taneity of the will which is called “” or “haughtiness.” This is the vocabulary of classical virtue ethics. The knowledge and the methodology of virtue ethics finds unexpected support in today’s neurosciences. In fact, neurobiology can provide indispensa- ble support to classical virtue ethics’ central affirmations and, there- fore, even to the anthropology of the spiritual-corporal unity of the . In other words, it can explain why the classical the- sis of virtue ethics, going back to Aristotle, that each one sees the motives and ends of action and that what is good appears to him or her, as he is (qualis unusquisque est, talis finis videtur ei),21 is not just a true thesis, but is also morally relevant. “The true good appears as a good only to the one that is good;” in other words the one that is well-disposed through his or her affections. Only to the just man does the just thing to do appear desirable, in other words a good which is not only theoretical, but practically de-

21 ST I q. 83, a. 1; Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, III, 5 1114a 32-b1. Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 11

sirable. To the vicious one instead, what in reality is not good (for example, something unjust or excessive) appears to be desirable and good. The motives for our action and the way we reflect on these things are co-determined by these character dispositions; indeed they are predetermined and inasmuch as we are responsible for these dis- positions, we are responsible for the actions caused by them as well. We accomplish many actions, perhaps most of them, not because we reflect on them here and now ab ovo, but because we are already this kind of person that we have become through previous decisions and because these decisions have taken the form of dispositions which subsequently guide our wanting and our acting in a precise direction. Neurobiology can support this because it shows us that our brain, without which nothing would happen in our spirit, possesses an im- mense plasticity; some new structures of networks can be built and others can disappear.22 Through aging, through each decision and action, and through environmental influences and interactions with others, the neural connections in the brain constantly change. So vir- tues and vices possess a foundation of neurons in the brain. This is precisely why Schopenhauer is mistaken when he writes: “Human character is constant: it remains the same throughout an entire life…. Man never changes.”23 on the brain tells us precisely the opposite; we are always changing even if everything cannot be changed. Nevertheless, even inherited qualities of character and those acquired from childhood which are almost immutable can be controlled, neutralized, guided in a good direction, within certain limits, through recently acquired dispositions for action, in other words through virtues. So Schopenhauer is not a trustworthy ally for a “neuro-scientific foundation of ethics.”

CONDITIONING OF THE INCLINATIONS AND RATIONAL REFLEC- TION: THE ERROR OF NEUROSCIENTIFIC REDUCTIONISM There are adherents of a “neuro-scientific foundation of philoso- phy” who have intuited certain connections between virtue ethics and neurobiology’s frameworks of thought. According to Yvonne Tho- rhauer, representative of this current, while research on the brain “reveals as useless a moral law based on obligation to be found in concepts of pure reason”—in other words ethics in the sense of Kant—the neurobiological point of view would allow us to under- stand precisely why the dispositions conditioned by the emotions and by character are so important for human action.24 In any case, if mo-

22 I rely on J. J. Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain. Perception, Attention and the Four Theaters of the Brain (New York: Vintage Books, 2002). 23 A. Schopenhauer, Preisschrift über die Freiheit des Willens, 89. 24 Y. Thorhauer, “Ethische Implikationen der Hirnforschung,” in Das Gehirn und seine Freiheit. Beiträge zur neurowissenschaftlichen Grundlegung der Philosophie, 12 Martin Rhonheimer

rality cannot exist if the will is not free from any empirical inclina- tion—in other words if the will is not determined exclusively by rea- son—then morality becomes impossible because reason, and conse- quently the will, never possesses such a freedom. With regard to practical reason, it is always co-determined in its judgments by the inclinations, by character dispositions, by the affective and emotional dimension. As each person is with his or her character, so does the good initially appear to him or her, and his or her will is motivated in this way. These dispositions which impact the “appearance of good”—as Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas assert—are also co- determined by corporal factors.25 So the imprints and connections in the brain have their influence on what appears affectionately and spontaneously as reasonable and good.26 Whether these dispositions are a blessing or curse, a virtue or vice, depends on how they orient us. But human reason possesses something else—the capacity to re- flect on itself, and so look at what is good from different points of view, and so to evaluate the motives and to put some inclinations in question which are conditioned by character. But it does not have the freedom to judge independently of the motives. And the will, the act of which is determined by reason, cannot possess a freedom greater than that of reason. That is why someone like Kant who makes inde- pendence from inclinations and from character a condition for moral- ity, thus asking of the morality of action a rational judgment which is independent of any inclination, is asking the impossible, something which is fundamentally incompatible with human nature. It is better to describe morally good action as that which stems from good dis- positions. Bad moral action instead is what results from bad charac- ter qualities and which is marked by bad emotional dispositions. Even if it were possible to demonstrate that most of our actions (whether good or bad)—let’s say 90%—are based on habits, on rou- tine, on habitual frameworks of behavior, on strategies we adopted and which are constantly applied, on the interiorization of rules, but also on the organism’s conditions, on emotional and affective dispo- sitions, and therefore always on the corresponding connection in the

ed. G. Roth and K.-J. Grün (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009), 67. Nevertheless, Thorhauer aims here more at today’s Anglo-Saxon virte ethics, as distinct from the old classic one in important points. See for this , The Morality of (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). I do not want to say—as some so-called neuro philosophers think—that Kant would be refuted with this. 25 ST I, q. 83, a. 1, ad 5. 26 Since reason is always influenced by the emotions and sentiments, and depends on them, see Antonio Damasio’s revolutionary study, for example in his book Des- cartes’ Error. Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain (London: Vintage Books, 2006). Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 13

brain, none of that should surprise or scare us. Our activity is a flow of life in which the factors just mentioned are determining. Depend- ing on whether these same factors are rational or irrational, in other words if they lead to good or evil, they help or impede practical rea- son in its capacity to concretely evaluate and then choose what is good and just in the action. Reason, therefore, which can only cause what we call “freedom” and “free will” is not excluded. It can break through this network of conditions; it can co-determine and change it. This network of conditions itself is a consequence of free deci- sions in more than one way. Furthermore, there is a difference be- tween an action based exclusively on the emotional dimension, on sensuality, or on a routine without any thought on one hand, and that which we call virtuous. Even if the latter is brought about by ac- quired dispositions, it is in conformity with reason; and since it is determined by rational reasons, it is freer than an action based on reasons formed on the basis of some uncontrolled passions and sen- suality.

THE OF VIRTUOUS ACTION, FREEDOM AND THE ROLE OF REASON The fact that virtues form character and empower reason, and that the vices do the contrary, is based on the fact that the virtues are not mere routine, but instead, they direct toward “creative” action, not something stereotypical. The human being is not only guided by in- stincts or impulses. Rather, from this point of view, he is a Mängel- wesen (A. Gehlen), that is, an “underdetermined, incomplete and unfinished being.” Therefore, he needs reason. “The biological be- ing, ‘man’ would not be able to live without spiritual activity; he could not survive as an animal.”27 Virtue is an activity of the spirit; it is like reasonableness inscribed in the tendencies of the senses. As Anselm W. Müller brilliantly notes in his book Was taugt die Tugend (“What Are the Virtues For?”), “in a certain sense (the virtues as- sume) the role of frameworks of behavior, but not inasmuch as they are frameworks, but in place of them.”28 Virtues are not rigid frame- works of behavior, nor are they just as rigid rational rules, but in the interaction between affectivity and reason, they are a kind of com- plement moderating the senses’ impulses. “They bring stability in place of the rigidity of the economy of human impulses.”29 In the diversity of situations and needs, but also in front of a “nature in need of being tamed and reinforced” and in view of pursuing specifi-

27 E. Coreth, Was ist der Mensch?, Grundzüge einer philosophischen Anthropologie (Innsbruck-Wien: Tyrolia, 1986), 123. 28 A. W. Müller, Was taugt die Tugend? Elemente einer Ethik des guten Lebens (Stuttgart, Kohlhammer, 1998), 62. 29 Müller, Was taugt die Tugend?, 63. 14 Martin Rhonheimer

cally human goals, virtues enable activity which chooses the good and the just in singular situations. This can be illustrated through the example of the virtue of forti- tude, often called “,” and through its contrary which is rash- ness on one hand, and cowardice on the other. The strong man holds out in danger; he is able to overcome fear; he deals with it; he en- dures difficulties if necessary; he shows patience, but he also looks for help when he realizes that something exceeds his powers; he does what is right even if it is to his disadvantage; he can control himself and put up resistance to sudden passions etc. This virtue does not appear in a determined type of action or in a stereotypical framework of behavior which can be observed. Based on the exterior action, it is difficult to judge if this concrete act stems from what fortitude dic- tates or not. Depending on the situation, the courageous man will face the danger or flee; he will do this or that; it all depends on how the situation is assessed according to reason. Instead, the coward will always flee, and the rash will always try to face whatever danger; the two do not act on rational grounds, but their action is determined by the emotions—even if, after the fact, it may be then rationalized— and it follows a rigid framework of behavior. It is, therefore, much more difficult to foresee the behavior of prudent virtuous persons than the behavior of vicious persons. The more someone is vicious, the less do they act rationally and the more they fit some stereotypes, and the more some determinations of their own character are in play. Thus, they may be more amenable to analysis by neuro-scientific experiments which indeed propose that we only want what our brain has already decided! Whatever the case may be, it seems to me that the classic doctrine of virtue ethics according to which virtue frees in order to follow reason and vice reduces to (in exaggerating, Aristotle held that the vicious person is absolutely unable to change) may find a certain support in today’s research on the brain. It seems that a vi- cious action, one led not so much by reason but by emotions, can be relatively well-explained in neurobiological terms (to the point of rationalization and justification of actions after the fact). A virtuous action, on the other hand—which is completely rational, which is almost an incarnation of reason in the totality of human sensitivity, of the emotional dimension and of affection (so we are not trying to eliminate what is sensitive and emotional)—this “rationally ordered passionality” seems less easily “explained through neurons” since it is more determined by reason, and therefore owns, as it were, the plasticity and unpredictability of reason. Furthermore, consideration is to be given to examples of heroic and absolutely unexpected chari- ty or offering one’s own life perhaps by persons from whom we nev- er would have expected it. But even consideration of the phenome- non of conversion, of a radically new re-orientation in life, of the Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 15

phenomenon of an ascetic struggle, the human capacity to control sentiments’ spontaneous eruptions and to block them from a determining influence on action—none of this fits with the idea of a perspective after the fact, attributing what has been lived to was already decided in the brain. In these cases, it seems rather that the will, guided by reason, becomes the adversary of the neural imprints. (As a consequence it obviously also becomes the cause of new, de- sirable formations and connections.) The fact that the substructure of such phenomena cannot be examined experimentally is part of their nature; it is inserted in vast vital connections. So our lives, even our freedom, possess a narrative structure. In view of some neurobiolog- ical experiments, the reconstructions will never be able to simulate them without destroying them inasmuch as they are vital connections and narrative structures. As a consequence, such experiments will always reach irrelevant results.

NEUROSCIENCE AT THE SERVICE OF AN INTEGRAL VISION OF THE HUMAN PERSON AS A SUBSTANTIAL UNITY OF BODY AND SPIRIT Notwithstanding all the points of conflict with an ethic based ex- clusively on the neurosciences, nevertheless there is a certain as- pect—even a substantial portion—of agreement. The agreement would be total if neuroscience were to recognize, instead of denying, the of this sphere of the spiritual which is revealed in the capacity for reflection. Such denials often are implicit and unspoken, but just as clear never- theless. They are negations a priori of the spiritual, as it is the case in the following statement made by Wolfgang Prinz, director of the Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften.

The idea of a free will in man cannot be reconciled with scientific re- flection for reasons of . Science starts with the principle that everything that happens has a cause, and that this cause can be dis- covered. I do not understand how someone working in empirical sci- ence can believe that free action is thinkable, and so not deter- mined.30

At a first glance, this affirmation appears to be correct from the epistemological point of view. However, it implies a tacit metaphysi- cal premise which, once made manifest, shows that the statement in fact only begs the question: the hidden premise is that there can only be physical causes. Furthermore, a false representation of the will’s freedom and action’s freedom can be found underneath it. I have al-

30 W. Prinz, “Der Mensch ist nicht frei. Ein Gespräch,” in Hirnforschung und Willensfreiheit. Zur Deutung der neuesten Experimente, ed. C. Geyer (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2004), 20-26; 22. 16 Martin Rhonheimer

ready proposed some argument against this before: Free action is never an “undetermined” action, but an action based on reasons, in other words on motives and therefore on causes coming from reason. So free action is an action determined by rational motives. Freedom is to be found in reason’s capacity to see the good from different points of view and to reflect—potentially ad infinitum—on its own judgments. That does not imply that there are actions without a cause. There is no disputing that “everything that happens has a cause, and that this cause can be discovered” as Wolfgang Prinz says. It only means that not all the causes are of a physical nature (i.e., mechanical causes). It means that scientific knowledge is not able to know reality in its entirety or all of being. So as genes can only code with proteins, similarly, neurons can only cause physical phenomena. As a psychiatry professor who also knows neurobiolo- gy, says: “We humans are not prisoners of our genes or our environ- ments. We have free will.”31 Since we human beings possess free will, we are neither prisoners of our genes or our environment, nor are we only puppets of what our brain “decides” because in fact, the brain decides nothing. In my opinion, then, it would be better that all sides recognize that there cannot be a clear, definitive explanation of how “the spir- itual” and “the material” cooperate in the case of the human being, as they penetrate one another without losing their ontological differ- ence; it simply escapes the horizon of our experience. Nevertheless, the phenomena remain. We will surely be able to interpret them much better with the aid of research on the brain which is aware of its own limitations. We could also better distinguish the spheres of from those that are of an exclusively pathologi- cal nature, and from character traits and environmental influences for which there is no guilt (and this certainly includes consequences for penal law).32 But neuroscientists, as neuroscientists, should simply, and in principle, abstain not only from denying the spiritual, but even from talking about it altogether. It simply does not belong to the ob- ject of their research. Brain research certainly helps to free us from some modern illu- sions on the existence of a completely unconditioned freedom. In brief: It can contribute to a better understanding of the classical an- thropology of the rational animal, and so it would help us to see rea- son as the real root cause of our freedom and our dignity. Reason is

31 Ratey, A User’s Guide to the Brain, 34. 32 Non-reductionist approaches in neuro-ethics are to be found in W. Glannon, Brain, Body, and Mind. With a Human Face (Oxford: Oxford Universi- ty Press, 2011). Also see J. M. Giménez Amaya and Sergio Sánchez-Migallón, De la Neurociencia a la Neuroética. Narrativa científica y reflexión filosófica (Pamplona: EUNSA, 2010); Neuroscienze, Amore e Libertà, ed. S. Kampowski (Siena: Edizioni Cantagalli, 2012). Moral Reason, Person and Virtue 17

what makes the human being the “pride of creation” and which raises him above everything generated by evolution before him. What is absolutely fundamental—and this is why it often seems trivial—is all around us. Even the experience of our interior spiritual life is part of it, our awareness of ourselves and the reflexivity of our reason. We live within this experience; that is why we get used to it, and it is easy to not see it anymore as so fundamental. We also forget that the “world” of the human being is not simply his natural envi- ronment, but a world that man himself, as spiritual and historical be- ing, has created through his individual and collective work. If we open our eyes to the human production of culture, of art, of poetry, and obviously, of science, and if we look for something similar else- where in nature, we find nothing comparable and we understand that culture, art, and science are not nature, nor a mere product of nature. They are rather a reflection of the spirit, a more elevated spirit in which man shares, and on which his being human is ultimately based. In a period dominated by the natural sciences, it is an espe- cially urgent task to maintain this awareness, as well as the self- understanding of man linked to it, and to make it emerge again in the collective awareness.