Friday, August 02, 2013

Morality of the Gaps: Ariel Castro appeals to science in saying he's not to blame

Ariel Castro was sentenced today to 1,000 years in prison without parole. He insists he did nothing wrong and blamed his crimes on "sex addiction." This is a classic case of the psycho-sophistical blame shifting that goes on in a society that gives easy credence to every scientistic pronouncement.

Castro can point to numerous radio and television shrinks (and seemingly most of the more conventional practitioners of this modern art) to justify his claim that, because he suffers from a psychological disease, he cannot be blamed--and should not be punished--for holding three women as virtual sexual slaves in his house for over ten years and forcing the death of the unborn child of one of the women.

"I'm not a monster," he said. "I'm sick."

Let's just remember what people like Dr. Phil said when Arnold Schwarzenegger was found to have had fling with the maid (and what others said about Tiger Woods when it was revealed that his skills at cavorting rivaled his golf abilities): He was suffering, he said on CNN one night, from "sex addition." When questioned as to whether this excused him from blame, Dr. Phil adamantly denied it did. But he was just talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Either it is a disease or it isn't. If it is, then the actions resulting from it are not voluntary, since diseases are not voluntary, and are therefore immune from blame or punishment. If it is not, then he cannot be excused. The Dr. Phil's of the world want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to cast themselves as scientists with the specialist's ability to divine the causes behind things, but also want to be able to deny the clear implication of they say because it would not be well-received from a public that had better be kept in the dark about the real implications of these beliefs.

Surely there are other, better-qualified people the media could consult when these kinds of issues come up.

I'm thinking of witch doctors here.

Once again, we have to go back to the common sense psychology of Aristotle to make sense of the tendency of people like Ariel Castro to shift blame to something or someone else.

Let's review for a minute. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle identifies the seven reasons people do things. Four of them are voluntary and three of them are involuntary:

With a little help from their psychologist friends, people like Castro try to move their actions from the left side of this chart (where they are responsible for their actions) to the right side (where they are not). This is what goes on with the legal insanity defense and, on the broader culture front, in the claim that homosexuality is somehow inborn. In both these cases, the actions of individual are cast as being outside the realm of moral judgment.

Human actions traditionally considered culpable are not moral conditions to be repented of; they are medical conditions to be cured.

In fact, all human behavior, we are led to believe, can be explained scientifically--if only we had adequate technical knowledge at our disposal. And the scientific explanation, being a scientific explanation, will of necessity exclude any moral cause, since a moral cause is necessarily non-scientific.

And the thing is, it is not just Arnold Schwarzenegger's dalliances or Tiger Woods bimbo eruptions that such people would explain away, but every human action. The goal of scientism is to eliminate the idea of voluntary action altogether. Scientific materialism, if it is consistent, cannot consider any action as voluntary. It must necessarily believe that every action is involuntary because it is caused exclusively by prior physical causes.

Religious believers are castigated by their atheist critics for believing in a "God of the gaps"--a God who serves in the role of stopgap explanation for any phenomenon that doesn't yet have a scientific explanation. But more and more unexplained phenomena are explained every day so that, if we follow the trajectory of the success of scientific explanation we can project a time in which we will have no need of God as an explanation for anything since everything will have a non-divine explanation.

The psychological explanations now proffered for the behavior of people like Ariel Castro are part of a larger movement to eliminate morality as an explanatory force altogether. It is a "Morality of the gaps" that involves the belief in actions that are caused by human wills outside the control of physical forces that will one day be explained by psychology.

This is why the logical positivists of the early and mid-20th century wanted to classify morality under psychology: because they considered it to have no independent explanatory existence.

In other words, Ariel Castro is no worse than the rest of us and the rest of us are no better than Arial Castro.

And if you don't like to hear that, don't blame me. Remember, I'm not responsible form my actions either.


Singring said...

It should be obvious that even if your premise about 'scientism' were to be correct, this would not prevent us 'scientismists' to lock Castro away for life simply to protect the rest of society. Even if his moral culpability were in dispute, the risk he presents to society would still be clear (and possibly even more so with a scientific understanding of his psychology) and therefore necessitate locking him up.

I would also remind your readers of your inconsistency on matters of moral culpability. Wasn't it you who pointed out to us that it was the coed-dorm policy that was to blame for the rape and sexual assault of college girls? After all, those college boys were just 'following their nature' and who could blame them for that? The same goes for sexual assault in the military - it's liberal policies to blame, not the complete failure of the military hierarchy to protect women on the job. They shouldn't be blamed for failing to stop men from just following their nature...

Yet here we are told that it is 100%, no questions asked the individual that has done the deed that is to blame (I would agree that he is to blame - but that shouldn't stop us from looking at other possible causes we might want to prevent from happening in the future). So a little more moral consistency would be nice.

Finally, even if we grant your entire premise, just be because you or I don't like the idea of the consequences of scientific materialism/determinism does not mean it is false. Deal with it.

KyCobb said...


Actually, a recent scientific study says that sex addiction doesn't exist. So much for that excuse. Anyway, the reality is that its only if scientific materialism is true that we have free will. If your omniscient and omnipotent God were real, then every decision we think we make has actually been set in stone for eternity in accordance with God's Will. The universe would be like a movie reel. Playing the movie creates the illusion that the characters are making decisions and taking action, but the reality is that the movie is just a series of still pictures selected by the director to tell the story he filmed. No matter how many times you watch Titanic, Jack is never going to ditch Rose and save himself, because that isn't part of the story that James Cameron filmed. Similarly, an omniscient and omnipotent God has always known what will happen in the universe from beginning to end, and there is absolutely nothing we can do to change that. I'm sure you wouldn't claim that God is less powerful than James Cameron or George Lucas. As far as our one free will without God, the human brain is far too complex for science to ever be able to definitively predict what we will think or do, which is entirely dependent on how the memes in our mind interact with our unique chemistry and external stimulus. This makes a human as close to a free actor as you can find in the universe.

Anonymous said...

I never know if Martin seriously believes some of the things he writes here or if he is *TRYING* to be funny.

Lee said...

Reminds me of a joke told by the late comic Mitch Hedberg, something to the effect...

They say alcoholism is a disease. If it is, it's the only disease you can get yelled at for having.

Damn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Damn it Otto, you have Lupus... one of those two doesn't sound right.

Lee said...

> Anyway, the reality is that its only if scientific materialism is true that we have free will. If your omniscient and omnipotent God were real, then every decision we think we make has actually been set in stone for eternity in accordance with God's Will.

Theism is not the only belief system with that same conundrum. LaPlace's Demon...

"We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes."

This would be materialistic determinism, I think.

Lee said...

> Actually, a recent scientific study says that sex addiction doesn't exist. So much for that excuse.

So one study issues an opinion and that settles it?

Until the next study comes out, I guess.

KyCobb said...


"Theism is not the only belief system with that same conundrum. LaPlace's Demon..."

The Uncertainty Principle tells us that such an intellect cannot exist, thus only God can be omniscient.