Criminal Responsibility and Neuroscience: No Revolution Yet

Frontiers in Psychology 10 (2019)
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Since the 90’s, neurolaw is on the rise. At the heart of heated debates lies the recurrent theme of a neuro-revolution of criminal responsibility. However, caution should be observed: the alleged foundations of criminal responsibility (amongst which free will) are often inaccurate and the relative imperviousness of its real foundations to scientific facts often underestimated. Neuroscientific findings may impact on social institutions, but only insofar as they also engage in a political justification of the changes being called for, convince populations, and take into consideration the ensuing consequences. Moreover, the many limits of neuroscientific tools call for increased vigilance when, if ever, using neuroscientific evidence in a courtroom. In this article, we aim at setting the basis for future sound debates on the contribution of neuroscience to criminal law, and in particular to the assessment of criminal responsibility. As such, we provide analytical tools to grasp the political and normative nature of criminal responsibility and review the current or projected use of neuroscience in the law, all the while bearing in mind the highly-publicized question: can neuroscience revolutionize criminal responsibility? Answering this question implicitly requires answering a second question: should neuroscience revolutionize the institution of criminal responsibility? Answering both, in turn, requires drawing the line between science and normativity, revolution and dialogue, fantasies and legitimate hopes.



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Valérian Chambon
Institut Jean Nicod

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Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry G. Frankfurt - 1971 - Journal of Philosophy 68 (1):5-20.
The Illusion of Conscious Will.Daniel M. Wegner - 2002 - Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Minds, Brains and Science.John R. Searle - 1984 - Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Freedom of the will and the concept of a person.Harry Frankfurt - 2004 - In Tim Crane & Katalin Farkas (eds.), Metaphysics: a guide and anthology. Oxford University Press UK.
Effective intentions: the power of conscious will.Alfred R. Mele - 2009 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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