Dr. Helen

“I don’t believe in guilt, because I don’t believe in free will..."

A recent Guardian article features a professor who has a program that determines if someone is gay or not by their face. However, I found this paragraph rather troubling to say the least:

This is where Kosinski’s work strays into biological determinism. While he does not deny the influence of social and environmental factors on our personalities, he plays them down. At times, what he says seems eerily reminiscent of Lombroso, who was critical of the idea that criminals had “free will”: they should be pitied rather than punished, the Italian argued, because – like monkeys, cats and cuckoos – they were “programmed to do harm”.

“I don’t believe in guilt, because I don’t believe in free will,” Kosinski tells me, explaining that a person’s thoughts and behaviour “are fully biological, because they originate in the biological computer that you have in your head”. On another occasion he tells me, “If you basically accept that we’re just computers, then computers are not guilty of crime. Computers can malfunction. But then you shouldn’t blame them for it.” The professor adds: “Very much like: you don’t, generally, blame dogs for misbehaving.”

Pitied rather than punished sounds like a recipe for disaster. If we have no free will, then why do people respond to incentives or disincentives? If some people just malfunction, why do they hide their crimes?

And dogs are punished and put in cages all the time even though this professor thinks no one blames them for misbehaving. Do we leave dogs free to bite people because we pity them? Kosinski’s philosophy sounds like an excuse to let people off the hook for horrid behavior, such as murder or violent crimes. It’s a scary philosophy.