International Society for Political Psychology Annual Meeting/Paper presentation

By Dr. Denis C. Larrivee

Neuroscience and Neuromodulation of free will: the case for personalistic agency in politics and ideology

Denis Larrivee, Educational Outreach Office Diocese of Charleston, SC USA. Adriana Gini, San Camillo Forlanini Medical Center, Rome, Italy

The exercise of individual preference for self determination, based on agency, is nowadays legitimated by most governments. However, the acquisition of power has always prompted various factions to persuade or override free choice. Complicating this picture, neuroscience offers increasingly better insight into the biological mechanisms of free will, and hence the opportunity for its manipulation. Neurological circuits for executive control, attentional orientation, the concept of self, and motivation have all been implicated. Moreover, some studies suggest that choice may be mediated deterministically, thus undermining freedom of choice as a cornerstone to democratic participation. Free will has traditionally been regarded as the autonomous selection of options corresponding to reasoned deliberation. We propose that neuroscience discoveries may enable ideological factions undue access over agent autonomy mainly in three ways: 1) behavioral conditioning, 2) directly via neuromodulation, and 3) philosophical legitimation. Improved understanding of brain plasticity, for example, could subserve improved training for modulating free will. Reinforcing the notion of free will philosophically can guard against illegitimate constraints exploited scientifically, and thus strengthen civic selection. Free will and the capacity for reason have always been regarded as distinguished features of the human person, a definition that is dynamically functional. Traditionally, however, personhood is considered an ontological category, wherein reason and volition are faculties “in potentia”. By attenuating the role of free will, the concept of person is likewise diminished; by contrast, recourse to its traditional meaning intensifies the role of free will and guards against coercive neurological measures, a foil to perilous ideologies.

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