My Brain Made Me Do It — So What?

By Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Duke University


Vijeth: Where were you? You promised to drive me to the airport, but you never showed up, and I missed my flight. You haven’t even said sorry. Why did you let me down?

Felipe: I watched a movie instead.  It was a romantic comedy. Don’t be angry with me.

Vijeth: You watched a movie! What kind of excuse is that?

Felipe: It’s the newest kind, a neural excuse.  I really wanted to watch the movie, and my desires are lodged in my brain, so my brain made me do it.

Vijeth: Of course your brain made you do it. It wasn’t your foot or your stomach that made you do it. It was your desires, and your desires are located in your brain; so your brain caused you to do it.

Felipe: Excellent, so we agree.

Vijeth: I agree that your brain made you do it, but that’s irrelevant.  What matters is WHICH PART of your brain made you do it. What made you do it was activations in those parts of your brain that constitute your desire to watch the movie.  That is just a pseudo-scientific way of stating that your desires made you do it.  But if you did it because of the brain states that constitute your desires, then — to put it another way — you did it because you wanted to! And, sorry, that’s still no excuse.

Felipe: You miss my point. My desires MADE me do it.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.