Upcoming Lecture by Dr. Christopher diCarlo

  • Date January 13, 2010
  • Time 12:00 am to 2:00 am
  • Location Presentation Room, Student Centre, University of Toronto Mississauga

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
The New Ethics: A Synthetic Approach to Understanding Good and Evil
A Public Lecture by Dr. Chris diCarlo
Student Centre, Presentation Room
7:00 pm

If humans, like all other animate or inanimate things in the universe function as a product of a complex series of causal events, wherein lies their virtue or their vice? How much control does any one of us have over our actions? Are people ‘good’ simply because they have been lucky enough to be able to control their volitions, desires, and intentions in ways that are approved by a given society? And are others ‘bad’ simply because they have not been so lucky? How much control did Tiger Woods have over his actions? How much control does an alcoholic have? Or a serial killer? Or you?

For millennia, philosophers, theologians, historians, and authors have wrestled with the problem of good and evil as it relates to human behaviour. But there has been an increasing need to bring scientists into the dialogue. For science provides us with the most descriptive (and hopefully, unbiased) analysis of the natural world. And we, as human beings, are subjects who have evolved in that natural world. It follows then, that we need to consider what our understanding of the world around us has to offer when we consider the value of the actions of ourselves and others.

In this talk, Dr. diCarlo will introduce a developing account of how humans value behaviour and action. He brings together aspects from philosophy, biology, the neurosciences, chemistry, physics, and the social sciences, in an attempt to articulate an epistemically responsible account of what it means for Homo sapiens to value the actions and behaviour of themselves and others. In order to do so, he believes we must understand the constraints under which someone has the ability to act in a certain way. Science describes what is the case in the natural world. Ethics prescribes how one ought to act in a given society. Is may not imply ought; but ought does imply can. In other words, if any person ought to act in a particular way, they must be able to do so. Otherwise, how could we hold someone accountable for their actions? So it follows that in order for someone to act in a particular way considered to be ‘valuable’ to humanity in some regard and context, we must understand the constraints through which someone acts. What will allow us to understand those constraints are the very sciences which descriptively provide us with the ‘is’ side of ethics. The better we understand what is the case regarding the constraints on human action, the better able we will be to determine culpability and responsibility in light of knowing to what degree a person was or was not in control of their volitions, their wills, their intentions. The New Ethics is a proposed model which attempts to understand human value within the context of known constraints in an effort to determine how much control over our actions we actually have and to what degree we can designate values of accountability and responsibility.

About the speaker:

Ontario’s Best Lecturer 2008 and Canada’s Humanist of the Year 2008, Christopher diCarlo is a Philosopher of Science and Ethics whose interests in cognitive evolution have taken him into the natural and social sciences. His personal research focuses on how and why humans reason, think, and act the way they do. He is interested in how and why the human brain has evolved to its current state and what cross-cultural and cross-species behaviour can provide insight into universally common modes of reasoning. He is also interested in the application of neuroscience (specifically fMRI work), in an effort to better understand psychoneuroendocrine feedback looping in problem solving. Dr. diCarlo is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology where he teaches Critical Thinking, Bioethics, and other courses. His most recent book (just released by McGraw-Hill Ryerson) is entitled: How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Practical Guide to Thinking Critically. He is also a past Visiting Research Scholar at Harvard University in the Department of Anthropology and the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology where he conducted research for two books he is currently writing called: The Comparative Brain: The Evolution of Human Reasoning and The Evolution of Religion: Why Many Need to Believe in Deities, Demons, and the Unseen.

This event is cosponsored by the Centre for Inquiry Ontario (www.centerforinquiry.net/ontario)