Neuroscience and Philosophy of Action: Can Aristotle's Concept of Action be Confirmed or Falsified or Even Eliminated?
Recently developed imaging technology has enabled neuroscientists to investigate in vivo and real time brain processes in persons performing complex tasks or simulating actions or imitating other subjects. Interestingly enough, analogous to these technical possibilities, the neuroscientific concept of action has gained in complexity. Moreover, findings like the discovery of so-called mirror neurons which fire both when a subject performs and perceives certain actions - and insights in the plasticity of the brain (including effects of maturation, learning and traumatic experiences) have stressed this complexity. For a long time it used to be the philosopher's task to describe and analyse the various forms and aspects of human action and especially to analyse our concepts of action. Aristotle has provided us with perhaps the most varied, detailed and influential analysis of human action. In e.g. his Ethics and Poetics he analyses moral and virtuous action, the perception of tragic action in the theatre, the forming of habits, moral emotions, etcetera. In our presentation we will first compare essential aspects of Aristotle's concept of action with neuroscientific findings and underscore the striking similarities. Consequently, however, we will reflect on the question, what differences in tasks remain between the philosophical and neuroscientific approaches to action, assuming that neuroscience cannot eliminate the philosophy of action. Perhaps it is the complexity and plasticity of the brain, rather, that allow humans to engage in both the descriptive and prescriptive forms of the philosophy of action.
Keywords: Philosophy of action, Neuroscience, Aristotle, Action, Perception, Complexity
Drs. Machiel Keestra
Assistant Professor, Head of the Interdisciplinary Honours program, Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Amsterdam