Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2020)

Louis C. Charland
University of Western Ontario
Jennifer Hawkins
Duke University
Decision-Making Capacity First published Tue Jan 15, 2008; substantive revision Fri Aug 14, 2020 In many Western jurisdictions the law presumes that adult persons, and sometimes children that meet certain criteria, are capable of making their own medical decisions; for example, consenting to a particular medical treatment, or consenting to participate in a research trial. But what exactly does it mean to say that a subject has or lacks the requisite capacity to decide? This question has to do with what is commonly called “decisional capacity”, a central concept in health care law and ethics, and increasingly an independent topic of philosophical inquiry. Decisional capacity can be defined as the ability of subjects to make their own medical decisions. Somewhat similar questions of capacity arise in other contexts, such as capacity to stand trial in a court of law and the ability to make decisions that relate to personal care and finances. However, the history behind the more general legal notions of capacity to stand trial and capacity to manage one’s life is different and operates somewhat differently in law (Roth, Meisel, & Litz 1977; Zapf & Roesch 2005). For the purposes of this discussion the notion of decisional capacity will be limited to medical contexts only; most notably, those where decisions to consent or to refuse treatment or participation in clinical research are concerned.
Keywords Decision-Making Capacity   Decisional Capacity   Informed Consent   Mental Competence   Mental Capacity
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 58,276
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Varieties of Religious Experience.William James - 1903 - Philosophical Review 12 (1):62-67.

View all 52 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Decision-Making Capacity.Louis Charland - 2011 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Capacity, Mental Mechanisms, and Unwise Decisions.Tim Thornton - 2011 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 18 (2):127-132.
Clarifying Capacity: Reasons and Value.Jules Holroyd - forthcoming - In Lubomira Radoilska (ed.), Autonomy and Mental Health. Oxford University Press.
Mental Capacity and the Applied Phenomenology of Judgement.Wayne Martin & Ryan Hickerson - 2013 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 12 (1):195-214.
Passion and Decision-Making Capacity in Anorexia Nervosa.Louis Christian Charland - 2015 - American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 6 (4):66-68.


Added to PP index

Total views
19 ( #541,999 of 2,419,627 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
8 ( #87,603 of 2,419,627 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes