Is blame worthy?

I have difficulty wrapping my head around free will.  It’s either me or free will, and I tend to think it’s the latter.

Most people, on the other hand, find it hard to imagine that we don’t have free will.  One of the big advantages of free will is that it lets us blame people for stuff they do, because they could always have chosen not to do that stuff.  And if we can’t blame people for stuff, how can we have a criminal justice system?

Radiolab recently ran a podcast called “Blame“.  The main story involved an epileptic who had surgery to control his disease; a side effect of the surgery was that it made him compulsively download child pornography.  He is arrested and brought to trial.  Is he guilty of a crime?  Should we blame him for his actions?

As neuroscience marches on and we gain a clearer understanding of how the brain works, there will be more and more situations like this, and it will be harder and harder to say that someone is to blame for his misdeeds.  The Radiolab hosts, Jad and Robert, seemed to find this a vexing moral and legal dilemma.  But again, I don’t get it.  If we got rid of blame, we could still have a criminal justice system.  You could still send someone to prison, if only to send a message to other people–other brains–that the person’s behavior is not something that society tolerates.

Blaming people, of course, is deeply satisfying, so I can’t imagine it will ever disappear, any more than religion will.  Still, I can dream.

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