The more I listen to Jeff, the more muddled he seems, starting with his talk of life as a “gift.” Who gave me this gift? If you say it was my parents, they had no idea who I might become—in fact they have some serious issues with the outcome of their sexual activity. They might have been making a baby, but they certainly weren’t giving life to a particular human being with all its idiosyncratic complexities, to “me.”
Which leads to “making the most of” this “gift,” “maximizing that opportunity.” One person may devote their life to sexual conquest, another to watching TV, and another to curing cancer. Who decides whether they’re making the most of life? Given that there’s no ultimate meaning of life, and that each of us “creates” our own, who’s giving out grades for life maximization?
Jeff seems to think that ability confers obligation: “...with the ability to be moral comes the obligation to make that choice.” Does this “obligation” apply to all abilities? I have the ability to be a top-notch handyman; does that mean I’m obligated to? (Don’t tell my wife.) A person with many abilities would have more obligations than she could ever fulfill. Is the ability to be moral different in some way from other abilities?
I think all the difficulties of Jeff’s thinking grow out of one root difficulty; the issue of self:
“Because my brain is me and my mind is me and that’s internal to me, I believe I’m a free agent…”
Suppose Jeff were to suffer brain damage that erased all his long-term memories but left his brain and body otherwise intact. Would he have the same self? His friends would probably not think so, since he wouldn’t remember them. His brain could still make decisions, and his body could carry them out, but the “me” that used to live there would have departed. His brain would acquire new experiences, new criteria for making decisions, and would construct a new self from those experiences.
Choice is not “a consequence of self,” it’s a consequence of being alive. Amoebas “choose” to move toward food and away from danger, not to do so brings death.
Morality and responsibility are consequences of social living, and in some societies even killing babies is OK if they are defective, the wrong sex, or from a competing social group.
The self is a consequence of the social requirement for the brain to explain the behavior of its organism, and it changes with new information.
It’s difficult to accept that our feeling of control is an artifact of social living, and that even the brain is under the control of its wiring and experience, but its wonderfully freeing once you get over the initial shock. Humility and a sense of humor help.
Here I am, striving mightily to be coherent, but what else can I do, given my abilities and history? Maybe I should create a new self…