By Neil Levy
J Ethics. 2014 Jun 1;18(2):171-185.
In Minds, Brains, and Law, Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson argue that current attempts to use neuroscience to inform the theory and practice of law founder because they are built on confused conceptual foundations. Proponents of neurolaw attribute to the brain or to its parts psychological properties that belong only to people; this mistake vitiates many of the claims they make. Once neurolaw is placed on a sounder conceptual footing, Pardo and Patterson claim, we will see that its more dramatic claims are false or meaningless, though it might be able to provide inductive evidence for particular less dramatic claims (that a defendant may be lying, or lacks control over their behavior, for instance). In response, I argue that the central conceptual confusions identified by Pardo and Patterson are not confusions at all. Though some of the claims made by its proponents are hasty and sometimes they are confused, there are no conceptual barriers to attributing psychological properties to brain states. Neuroscience can play a role in producing evidence that is more reliable than subjective report or behavior; it therefore holds out the possibility of dramatically altering our self-conception as agents and thereby the law.
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