PERSONS AND THEIR BRAINS|

11-14 July 2012
St Anne’s College, Oxford
Organised by the Ian Ramsey Centre, University of Oxford

PLENARY SPEAKERS

Simon Blackburn, A.C. Grayling, Peter Hacker, Iain McGilchrist, David Papineau, Sally Satel, Roger Scruton, Raymond Tallis

BACKGROUND

It is now over 20 years since Churchland’s book Neurophilosophy was published, and in its wake whole disciplines have sprung into being, proudly sporting the prefix ‘neuro-’ by way of attaching themselves to Churchland’s banner. We have entered a new period in which philosophy, among a substantial community of its practitioners, might be seen as the handmaiden of neuroscience, whose role is to remove the obstacles that have been laid in the path of scientific advance by popular prejudice and superstitious ways of thinking. Brain imaging techniques, which enable us to allocate mental functions to precise cortical areas, and in some cases to establish the neural pathways through which information is processed and decisions formed, have cast doubt on the reality of human freedom, have revised the description of reason and its place in human nature, and caused many people to suspect the validity of the old distinctions of kind, which separated person from animal, animal from machine and the free agent from the conditioned organism. In addition, the more we learn about the brain and its functions, the more do people wonder whether our old ways of managing our lives and resolving our conflicts – the ways of moral judgment, legal process and the imparting of virtue – are the best ways, and whether there might be more direct forms of intervention that would take us more speedily, more reliably and perhaps more kindly to the right result.

These developments appear to sit uneasily with the traditional concept of the person, a central concern of philosophy since at least the early Middle Ages. From infancy each of us singles out persons from the rest of our environment as recipients of love, affection, anger and forgiveness. We face them eye-to-eye and I- to-Thou, believing each person to be a centre of self-conscious reflection who responds to reasons, who makes decisions, and whose life forms a continuous narrative in which individual identity is maintained from moment to moment and from year to year. Are we then justified in treating the traditional attributes of persons, such as self-identity, thought, free will and consciousness, simply as “folk psychological” concepts to be revised in a physically reductionistic manner, or can developments in neuroscience be interpreted within alternative philosophical frameworks? Furthermore, what are the broader implications for new first, second and third-personal understanding in moral judgment, in the law, in religion, politics and the arts?

The purpose of this conference is to discuss and debate these developments from a variety of perspectives, to examine the relevance of neuroscience both to philosophy and to the other humanities of the post-Enlightenment university, and to confront the intellectual issues that surround the emergence of what might reasonably be called a ‘neuroculture’.

REGISTRATION

All those wishing to attend the conference are invited to register via the Oxford University online shop. The registration fee includes simple lunch, tea and coffee for each day.

ACCOMMODATION AND MEALS

There are two options:
(1) Book a room at St Anne’s College, Oxford, arriving Wed 11 July, departing Sunday 15 July in the morning. This option includes the cost of all the dinners during the conference.
(2) Purchase individual dinners only, without accommodation.

SHORT PAPERS

Short papers are also invited on topics directly relevant to the conference themes, to be delivered in parallel sessions of 30 minutes duration (20 minutes for the paper, 10 minutes for discussion). Those wishing to contribute a paper should submit a title, a 200 word abstract, and institutional affiliation, by email to the Ian Ramsey Centre administrator, Sarah Retz with the subject line “Persons and their Brains Abstract.”

Closing Date for Abstract submissions: Friday 3rd February, 2012. Notification of accepted papers will take place by the end of February 2012.


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