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The Contender
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Blame and gratitude are illogical concepts

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/14/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 561 times Debate No: 54710
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
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The concept of blame and of it's opposite, gratitude, are illogical concepts due to the fact that all humans are reflections of their environment. The human brain is a simple input-output machine. Without input there cannot be output. The concept of "input" is rather vague but we can classify by saying that it is a person's "environment" or what they hear, smell, see, taste, and process. To change output you must simply change input or, in this case, environment. If a human's output in any situation is simply their environment speaking through them then the concept of blame, though psychologically necessary to blow off steam, and thus its opposite are illogical.


Hello and well met,
Your position in this debate is consistent with the behaviorist theory of personality (i. e. that human thought processes are shaped exclusively by external causes) and from this you deduce that gratitude or blame are illogical.
I will assume for this debate that logical is intended as a synonym for reasonable or sensible.

I posit that your explanation for human actions is not complete: if all that matters is input (or situation) we could not predict how a person will behave unless we knew all the external factors at play, and yet people tend to act in consistent ways (that are usually described by adjectives given to the person: selfish, generous, introvert, etc.).
This is what is known as the Person-Situation debate (1).
The most common position these days in psychology is that both sides are right: the behavior of a person is guided by personal traits and situation (or external input) (2) (3).

I'll add that in your theory there is no space for free will and personal responsibility: what is the use of prisons then, if a crime is just the inevitable output of impersonal circumstances? And why do people score differently on tests, if they followed the same lessons?

Debate Round No. 1


I do apologize because you seem to have misunderstood my thinking on the human brain through no fault of your own but through my own negligence. My theory is not that any given brain will react the same given the same set of circumstances but that a brain will react according to the sum of its input, or what is has learned through its environment. A person is given to a set of behaviors, selfishness, generosity, self-seclusion, due to what the brain has learned throughout its life. Personal traits are established through repeated exposure to inputs that would breed this behavior in the many connections of the brain. As to your query about prisons. A person whose experiences has led them to become a danger to society should be imprisoned for the common good but it not through any fault of their own that they behave in a destructive manner. You do not blame a cog in a machine for rotating one way and not another, though this is a slightly oversimplified version of human behavior. As to why people score differently on tests their are many other factors that influence their performance besides the lesson. One child may have an unstable household another may have no family to speak of and thus has no pressure, outside of school, to perform well. One child might even have a professor for a parent who coaches them and obsesses over their grades. Each student is taught and learns different values and thus are different people.


No need to apologize, my last paragraph was mostly rhetorical.
As for your contention, that behavior is the effect solely of external factors (and reinforcement or lack of the same), I find it, as before, not complete. To clarify: I agree that the brain is an input-output machine, but I disagree on the source of inputs; you say it's only external, I say that it's both internal and external.
I posit that if your position were true then:

A) no innate motives would exist, as something innate doesn't need previous experience;
B) human language, and especially the process of learning a language, would be unexplainable in scientific terms.

The existence of innate motives was postulated in 1959 (and has since replaced the behaviorist concept of drives) in order to explain some behaviors that occur without external stimulation, such as exploration, play,etc. (1). More than 1.000 articles have been written on the subject since, and their existence is not generally in doubt.
To make examples in the animal kingdom: rhesus monkeys solve puzzles even if there is no reward associated (2) and zebra finches sing even if raised in isolation (3). I think that shows that the premise that all behavior is due to external cues is false.

What about human language? to cite Noam Chomsky:
"As far as acquisition of language is concerned, it seems clear that reinforcement, casual observation, and natural inquisitiveness (coupled with a strong tendency to imitate) are important factors, as is the remarkable capacity of the child to generalize, hypothesize, and "process information" in a variety of very special and apparently highly complex ways which we cannot yet describe or begin to understand, and which may be largely innate, or may develop through some sort of learning or through maturation of the nervous system. The manner in which such factors operate and interact in language acquisition is completely unknown. It is clear that what is necessary in such a case is research, not dogmatic and perfectly arbitrary claims, based on analogies to that small part of the experimental literature in which one happens to be interested." (4)
And a stringent definition of what is an input and what qualifies as reinforcement in the matter of learning a language was never achieved, making the study of languages difficult at least under your worldview.


(this is a review of Skinner's book "Verbal Behavior", in which Skinner tried to push the point you're making, it's quite long and technical so don't feel obliged to read all of it)
Debate Round No. 2


I congratulate you on your sources as they are quite extensive and technical. If we except what you say to be true and there is an area of behavior that is hard-wired into the brain then we must look at where this hard wiring derives from. Taking out any external factors that effect growth we are left with two driving forces of neural development: genetics and chance. During brain growth the person is not under control of these two factors and is thus not responsible for what template they grow. They are also not responsible for the environment that teaches that brain. So all external and innate motives are out of the control of the operator, making him not responsible for anything he does. This is not to say that if a man is a murderer that he should not be locked up for the common good, quite the opposite, but he is not responsible for his actions.


It's really been a pleasure to debate with you, but I'm afraid I must disagree again:

while I'm glad that you consider the possibility of hard-wired instincts as an alternative source of inputs, I think that only the second example I brought was a clear cut instinctive response (the finch singing without learning how to). I don't think that we could say that rhesus monkeys are hard-wired to solve puzzles (puzzle is intended here as the physical object, not the abstract concept).
And this brings me to the meat of my argument: the monkeys solved the puzzles without external stimulation to guide them, so why did they do that? My answer is because they chose to, guided by their curiosity.
They were not forced to do it by the circumstances, unless you think that given a puzzle and a bored monkey there is only one possible solution that will happen all of the time.

The same can be said of the human being: "genetics and chance" is a good approximation of what happens during the development of the whole organism, but the more we study of the brain the more we realize it's really complex. Nobody has ever identified a gene that is single handedly responsible for a behavior in humans.
Now, as an aside, I think that the human mind is an emergent property of our prefrontal cortex, and that whenever we make a choice we potentiate determinate clusters of synapses and depotentiate others, and that personality is just the sum of this. Note that LTP (long term potentiation) is a phenomenon linked to memory that happens thanks to genetics but, as far as we know, is the same for all clinically sane people.

You've been most courteous but I don't think you ever tried to prove what you said, aside for saying it was so. Since you were making a positive assertion, I believe you failed to meet your burden of proof. In other words I posit that claiming that humans are not responsible for their behavior because they have no control on the processing of their brains is not warranted by evidence.
However, the debate is over ad we'll see what other people think.

I repeat that it was a pleasure, have a good day.
Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Mhykiel 2 years ago
Totally disagree
Posted by MyDinosaurHands 2 years ago
Technically I disagree, but in practical senses I don't. I kind of want to debate you, but I also don't want to make this a semantics debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by bladerunner060 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: A long, technical argument on the nature of choice and personality. But, as Con notes, Pro didn't really fulfill the BoP of the position. While both sides raised interesting points, Pro failed to sufficiently support the motion. Arguments to Con.