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Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility$
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Nicole A. Vincent

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199925605

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199925605.001.0001

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Guilty Minds in Washed Brains?

Guilty Minds in Washed Brains?

Manipulation Cases and the Limits of Neuroscientific Excuses in Liberal Legal Orders

(p.335) 14 Guilty Minds in Washed Brains?
Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility

Christoph Bublitz

Reinhard Merkel

Oxford University Press

Among the worrisome aspects of neuroscience is that the increasing knowledge about neuronal and mental processes as well as new tools to intervene into brains and minds in order to modify thoughts and behavior can be used for manipulative purposes. This chapter addresses the responsibility of persons for actions resulting from severe manipulations. In a rich philosophical debate it is widely held that manipulated agents are not responsible. By contrast, the law rarely excuses defendants even when their motives for action were severely influenced from outside. We compare these diverging lines of reasoning and argue against recognition of a “brainwashing defense”. The wide guarantee of personal freedom in liberal constitutional orders is viable and defensible only if persons can be expected to abide by the law. When persons disappoint normative expectations, a reactive response has to (counterfactually) reinforce the validity and stability of the norm. This is one of the rationales for the ascription of responsibility and punishment. A history-oriented approach of responsibility that would excuse persons because of manipulative influences, as favored by many philosophers and by unexamined moral intuitions, focuses too narrowly on purely subjective aspects such as authenticity, and therewith, just like many current discussions of responsibility and neuroscience, tends to lose sight of the functions of responsibility within the social and normative structures in which it is embedded.

Keywords:   manipulation cases, brainwashing defense, mental freedom, neurointerventions, responsibility, normative expectations, norm stabilization

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