Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The idea of free will is out of fashion

Dr. Kathleen Taylor, a neurologist at Oxford University, speaking at the Hay Literary Festival in in June, said that it will soon be possible to treat religious fundamentalism and other ideological beliefs potentially harmful to society as a form of mental illness. She said that radicalizing ideologies may soon be viewed not as being of personal choice or free will but as a category of mental disorder. She said new developments in neuroscience could make it possible to consider extremists as people with mental illness rather than criminals.

This isn't new. They treated political opinions as mental illnesses in Brezhnev's Russia - and in Czar Nicholas I's Russia, come to think of it.

The Renaissance belief in man's autonomy is going out of fashion and so is the Catholic idea of free will that preceded it.

Brendan O'Neil, who is always good and usually right, despite being a sort of Communist, made a germane point this week, talking about lack of free speech in universities

Closely related to this institutionalisation of censorship has been the relentless rise of the therapeutic outlook. This new view of humanity eschews the old John Stuart Mill attitude – which celebrated self-government, the ‘firmness and self-control’ of the individual – and replaces it with a view of individuals as weak, threatened, easily damaged by horrible happenings, cutting words: ‘scarred for life’.

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