Neuroscience and the Future of Personhood and Responsibility

19 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2012

See all articles by Stephen Morse

Stephen Morse

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: April 4, 2012


This is a chapter in a book, Constitution 3.0: Freedom and Technological Change, edited by Jeffrey Rosen and Benjamin Wittes and published by Brookings. It considers whether likely advances in neuroscience will fundamentally alter our conceptions of human agency, of what it means to be a person, and of responsibility for action. I argue that neuroscience poses no such radical threat now and in the immediate future and it is unlikely ever to pose such a threat unless it or other sciences decisively resolve the mind-body problem. I suggest that until that happens, neuroscience might contribute to the reform of doctrines that do not accurately reflect truths about human behavior, to the resolution of individual cases, and to the efficient operation of various legal practices. If the power to predict and prevent dangerous behavior becomes sufficiently advanced, however, traditional notions of responsibility and guilt might simply become irrelevant.

Keywords: Criminal law, neuroscience, responsibility, genetics, prediction and prevention of dangerous behavior, prefrontal cortex, moral agency, innocent until proven guilty, autonomy, victims of neuronal circumstances, conscious will

Suggested Citation

Morse, Stephen J., Neuroscience and the Future of Personhood and Responsibility (April 4, 2012). U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 12-26, Available at SSRN:

Stephen J. Morse (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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