Criminal Law and Common Sense: An Essay on the Perils and Promise of Neuroscience

35 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2015 Last revised: 22 Apr 2016

See all articles by Stephen Morse

Stephen Morse

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: 2015


This article is based on the author’s Barrock Lecture in Criminal Law presented at the Marquette University Law School. The central thesis is that the folk psychology that underpins criminal responsibility is correct and that our commonsense understanding of agency and responsibility and the legitimacy of criminal justice generally are not imperiled by contemporary discoveries in the various sciences, including neuroscience and genetics. These sciences will not revolutionize criminal law, at least not anytime soon, and at most they may make modest contributions to legal doctrine, practice, and policy. Until there are conceptual or scientific breakthroughs, this is my story and I’m sticking to it.

Keywords: Criminal law, neurosciences, philosophy of mind, culpability, excuse, mitigation, behavioral causation, compulsion, mental states, mens rea, intention, libertarian free will, causal theory of action, compatibilism

Suggested Citation

Morse, Stephen J., Criminal Law and Common Sense: An Essay on the Perils and Promise of Neuroscience (2015). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 99, P. 39, 2015; U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 15-38. 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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