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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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Irrationality, Mental Capacities, and Neuroscience 1

Irrationality, Mental Capacities, and Neuroscience 1

(p.85) 4 Irrationality, Mental Capacities, and Neuroscience1
Neuroscience and Legal Responsibility

Jillian Craigie

Alicia Coram

Oxford University Press

The concept of mental capacity is of central importance in private law, where it is used to determine a person’s ability to consent to or refuse medical treatment. Questions about psychological capacities are also increasingly playing a role in the criminal law, where culpability is being understood in terms of the ability for rational action. In both contexts, progress in the neurosciences has raised questions about how it might inform these decisions. We investigate this question by examining the relationship between judgments about capacity, norms of rationality and underlying psychological and neural mechanisms. The role played by normative requirements in both kinds of determination, and differences in the norms that are relevant, are used to draw conclusions about what neuroscience can offer in these two legal contexts. We conclude that current debates in moral psychology call into question key assumptions that underlie optimism about the usefulness of neuroscience for assessing culpability.

Keywords:   neuroscience, mental capacity, criminal responsibility, rationality, autism, psychopathy, empathy, moral psychology

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