The Situationist

Suhler and Churchland on Control: Conscious and Otherwise

Posted by Thomas Nadelhoffer on August 30, 2009

BrainCogsChristopher Suhler and Patricia Churchland have recently published an interesting article, entitled Control: Conscious and Otherwise,” that is directly relevant to the situationist challenge to more robust models of moral and legal responsibility.  Here is the abstract.

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Social psychologists have shown human decisions to be sensitive to numerous ordinary, possibly nonconscious, situational contingencies, motivating the view that control is largely illusory, and that our choices are largely governed by such external contingencies. Against this view is evidence that self-control and goal-maintenance are regularly displayed by humans and other animals, and evidence concerning neurobiological processes that support such control. Evolutionarily speaking, animals with a robust capacity to exercise control – both conscious and nonconscious – probably enjoyed a selective advantage. Counterbalancing data thus point to an account of control that sees an important role for nonconscious control in action and goal maintenance. We propose a conceptual model of control that encompasses such nonconscious control and links in-control behavior to neurobiological parameters.

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I am curious to see what the readers of this blog make of their provocative suggestion that the kind of control needed for responsibility can actually be attributed to the very automatic processes that situationists often point to in an effort to put pressure on traditional models of moral and legal responsibility.  There is also a post about this paper over at The Garden of Forking Paths.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Person X Situation X System Dynamics,” “Situation” Trumps “Disposition” – Part I & Part II,” and “The (Unconscious) Situation of our Consciousness – Part I, Part II, Part III, & Part IV.”

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3 Responses to “Suhler and Churchland on Control: Conscious and Otherwise”

  1. [...] Suhler and Churchland on Control: Conscious and Otherwise [...]

  2. [...] Suhler and Churchland on Control: Conscious and Otherwise [...]

  3. It has seemed to me that one avenue of “rebalancing the inquiry”, as Suhler and Churchland put it, is something along the lines of theorists standing back and noting the overall social function of law, such as statistical deterrence and the social needs of purging and cleansing. Ultimately, it seems to me, this must – and will – counter balance the importance notion of discrete instances of ‘justice’. But Suhler and Churchland seem to provide a very different way of “rebalancing the inquiry,” noting the importance of the sophistication of the unconscious mind, thereby providing a more scientifically accurate picture of ‘control’. Removing the illusory tight line between conscious and unconscious control and investigating all the data we have from science to date appears to be necessary for moving forward with a philosophically stout version of situationism. Although Suhler and Churchland criticize the ‘Frail Control’ hypothesis, it is precisely John Doris’ failure to appreciate the sophistication of the unconscious mind they are after. So there does not appear to be a clear discrepancy between the working theory here at The Situationist and Suhler and Churchland’s thesis.

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