Project Prof. Dr. Thomas Fuchs
The brain – an organ of freedom? Neurobiological conditions for personal autonomy
According to classical ethics and action theories, the very concept of action as different from natural events presupposes a deliberating, evaluating and decision-making being or a person. It is characteristic of persons that they are not forced to act out their impulses immediately, but are capable of evaluating and determining their actions with regard to their own preferences and their respect for others. Since Kant, this capacity of self-determination has been considered essential for the foundation of human dignity. Therefore, the neurobiological questioning of free will has far-reaching consequences for our concepts of the person and of human dignity.
The project aims at a new approach to the present debate by relating the anthropological constituents of personal autonomy to the results of neurobiological research. Of particular interest in this context are the peculiarities of human phylo- and ontogenesis that open up increasing degrees of freedom of the central nervous system. Among these are, for example, specific frontal brain functions that underly the regulation of emotional impulses and the capacity of perspective-taking or “theory of mind”. By combining neurobiological theories (Fuster, Gazzaniga et al.) with approaches from philosophical anthropology, humans may be described as living beings whose (neuro-)physiological organisation enables them to develop an “excentric position” (Plessner) and thus to determine themselves with regard to allo-centric and moral perspectives. Hence, the project will investigate the possible convergence of neurobiological and anthropological approaches to the development of personal autonomy.