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Rational Agency and Moral Practice: An Exploration of Dual Constraints

Mahmood Ansari, Mahmood Ansari (2013): Rational Agency and Moral Practice: An Exploration of Dual Constraints.


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A number of actions performed by a large number of persons are often characterized by apathy, impulsivity and goal-neglect in contemporary times. While being fully capable of exercising the theoretical reasoning consistent with their desires and beliefs, an increasing number of persons generally fail to take into account the necessity of practical reasoning focused on valuing the other-regarding responsibility, duty and obligation. They are endowed with the faculty of theoretical rationality and yet they have no regard for the necessity of deliberation about and valuation of future consequences of an action. In such a case, the apathetic and goal-neglecting impulsive persons fail to properly execute actions. What is at stake is that apathetic disposition and impulsive intentionality constrains the working of the relation of emotion, reason and thought towards purposeful action and moral doing. It needs to be acknowledged that agential autonomy of human nature and voluntary nature of human actions as these are mediated through practical reason have an intimate relation with the health of human brain and the richness of information it is endowed with. What is nowadays increasingly observed as human actions driven by socially pervasive undesirable whims and reprehensible impulses may often be simply the result of malfunction of cognitive control of brain over internal information and asymmetry in coupling of external information with brain. A human agent suffering from apathy, impulsivity and goal-neglect may not be successful in bringing the cognitive reason and perceptual information to leave a stamp on his/her moral practices in day to day life. Such a situation may allow for manifold standards of moral practices in the real world. Such a multiplicity in the practices of morality is tragically not always accounted in theories of ethics. It must however be accounted. Classical postulates on the concept of a rational agency and the rationalist claim regarding universality of the practical reason needs to account for the general observations of at least two pervasive real-life constraints on moral practices since these dual constraints produce exceptions in standard moral practices. One is grounded in observations of pervasive apathy, and another derives from the phenomena of impulsivity and goal-neglect on part of a large number of people. Whereas apathy may often be caused by malfunction of cognitive control function of the pre-frontal cortex and corti-costriatal circuitry of the human brain, goal neglect may largely be the result of asymmetry in coupling and transferring of perceptual data and external information to human brain. In case of lesions of and damages to the pre-frontal cortex of brain, malfunctioning of the cognitive control functions begins and, inter alia, the human agents begin suffering from apathy. In case of irregularity in the functioning of corti-costriatal brain circuitry, the processing of reward-related (internal and external) informational resources is hampered and, inter alia, the human agents witness losing control over the process of regulation of impulsive decisions and actions. Both situations are symptomatic of the ‘psychic akinesia’ (also called ‘athymormia’) - auto-activation deficit.

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