Responsible choices, desert-based legal institutions, and the challenges of contemporary neuroscience

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Both law and the moral/political philosophy on which it is built pre-suppose certain views in psychology. These are fundamental views about who we are as persons, as moral agents, and as legal subjects. Much of our political philosophy and our legal institutions depend on these views being true of us; indeed much that we value in ourselves seems indefensible without these views being true. Yet the rise of cognitive science in general, and neuroscience in particular, is commonly taken to undermine these views. We thus need to assess whether this is true, either now given the present state of neuroscience, or in the future given what foreseeably may be developed by that science. The aim of this paper is to lay the groundwork for such an assessment by isolating as clearly as possible both what in our legal/political institutions is challenged by neuroscience, and what in neuroscience is doing the challenging. In particular I shall seek to clarify the different challenges that arise from work in neuroscience, for only when such challenges are distinguished, one from the other, can one begin to assess whether they are true. I shall begin by spelling out more completely the legal, moral, and psychological suppositions about persons that seem to be challenged by recent advances in the brain sciences. Then in the next section I shall lay out the challenges to this view presented by current neuroscience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNew Essays in Political and Social Philosophy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages47
ISBN (Electronic)9781139096812
ISBN (Print)9781107604537
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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