15 July 2010, 18.30 – 20.00

Mind-Brain Lecture: Nicole Vincent (Delft)

“A compatibilist theory of legal responsibility: on the interface between science, technology and law”

Philosophical compatibilism reconciles moral responsibility with determinism. For instance, on John Fischer and Mark Ravizza's account, whether a person is responsible for what they do depends not on whether they could have done otherwise ≠ freedom from causation is not needed ≠ but rather it depends on whether their actions issued from their own moderately reasons-responsive mechanisms (and on some historical factors). This paper will investigate whether what compatibilism does for moral responsibility and determinism could also be done for legal responsibility and the empirical sciences 9 i.e. whether it might be possible, and useful, to adopt a compatibilist strategy in the context of reconciling legal responsibility with findings from the empirical sciences, and if so then what doing this might involve. Some authors claim that empirical findings from cognitive and social psychology, neuroscience and behavioural genetics challenge the very foundation of our legal responsibility practices. The story that is usually told looks something like this: by revealing the causes of our behaviour these sciences allegedly show that we can never do anything other than what we do, and hence that nobody should be held responsible for what they do. The story of how the empirical sciences challenge legal responsibility is almost identical to the story of how determinism was meant to challenge moral responsibility. However, moral responsibility is not legal responsibility, and determinism is not science. Never the less, I will argue that the same broad strategy which compatibilists use to address the latter challenge can indeed also be used with some important modifications to address the former challenge.

Dr Nicole Vincent is at the Department of Philosophy, TU Delft



Berlin School of Mind and Brain
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
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10117 Berlin


Malte Engel
malte.engel-please remove this text-@web.de