Responsibility and the Brain Sciences
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Some theorists think that the more we get to know about the neural underpinnings of our behaviors, the less likely we will be to hold people responsible for their actions. This intuition has driven some to suspect that as neuroscience gains insight into the neurological causes of our actions, people will cease to view others as morally responsible for their actions, thus creating a troubling quandary for our legal system. This paper provides empirical evidence against such intuitions. Particularly, our studies of folk intuitions suggest that (1) when the causes of an action are described in neurological terms, they are not found to be any more exculpatory than when described in psychological terms, and (2) agents are not held fully responsible even for actions that are fully neurologically caused.
KeywordsResponsibility Neuroscience Free will Experimental philosophy Mental illness Law
Many thanks to the audience at the Society for Philosophy and Psychology at York University in Toronto, Canada, the audience at the 2008 Central Division Meeting of the APA in Chicago, IL, the audience at Mind, Brain, and Experience at the University of Colorado in Denver, and the audience at the tenth anniversary conference for the journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice at the Blaise Pascal Institute in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Many thanks also to Bryce Huebner, Mark Phelan, and Jesse Prinz for insightful comments, and to Joshua Knobe for his unprecedented generosity. Thanks also to two anonymous referees for their helpful comments.
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