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Neuroscience, Normativity, and Retributivism

Michael S. Pardo

University of Alabama School of Law

Dennis Patterson

European University Institute; Rutgers University School of Law, Camden; Swansea University School of Law; European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW)

December 5, 2011

THE FUTURE OF PUNISHMENT, Thomas Nadelhoffer, ed., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming
U of Alabama Public Law Research Paper No. 1968552

Advocates for the increased use of neuroscience in law have made bold and provocative claims about the power of neuroscientific discoveries to transform the criminal law in ways large and small. Perhaps the boldest and most provocative of these claims are made in an influential article by Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen. They claim that neuroscience will reveal that criminal defendants are not morally responsible for their actions and that this revelation will thereby undermine retributivist justifications for criminal punishment. In the process of resolving previously intractable debates between consequentialism and retributivism, neuroscience will also, they contend, resolve age-old debates about free will. In this essay, we discuss several serious problems with their argument. We maintain that no neuroscientific discoveries will lead to the sorts of changes predicted by Greene and Cohen and, even if they did, those changes would not be the product of neuroscientific insight but result from unwarranted and problematic inferences which ought to be resisted.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 29

Keywords: neuroscience, criminal punishment, retributivism, consequentionalism, moral responsibility, free will, determinism, compatibilism, folk psychology

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Date posted: December 6, 2011  

Suggested Citation

Pardo, Michael S. and Patterson, Dennis, Neuroscience, Normativity, and Retributivism (December 5, 2011). THE FUTURE OF PUNISHMENT, Thomas Nadelhoffer, ed., Oxford University Press, Forthcoming; U of Alabama Public Law Research Paper No. 1968552. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1968552

Contact Information

Michael S. Pardo (Contact Author)
University of Alabama School of Law ( email )
P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States
Dennis Patterson
European University Institute ( email )
Villa Schifanoia
133 via Bocaccio
Firenze (Florence), 50014
Rutgers University School of Law, Camden ( email )
Camden, NJ 08102-1203
United States
856-225-6369 (Phone)
856-751-8752 (Fax)
Swansea University School of Law
United Kingdom
European University Institute - Department of Law (LAW) ( email )
Via Boccaccio 121 (Villa Schifanoia)
I-50122 Firenze
Feedback to SSRN

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