Brains create behavior. Yet we hold people, not brains, morally and legally responsible for their actions. Under what conditions could – or should – brain disorder affect the way which we assign moral and legal responsibility to a person?
In this conversation among a neuroscientist who studies moral judgment, a forensic psychiatrist, and a law professor, we explored three cases that highlight the relationship between brain disorder, law-breaking, and norms relating to responsibility.
Each case raised challenging questions: Can we establish whether the brain disorder caused the law-breaking behavior? Even if we can, is the presence of brain disorder morally or legally excusing? All behavior is caused: why should some causes be excusing, but not others? If brain disorder can cause unlawful behavior, can we infer the reverse – that people who behave unlawfully have disordered brains? A provocative discussion on the state of the art of the intersection of neuroethics, brain science, philosophy, and the law was had by all.
This seminar took place from 4:30-6:00pm on Monday, March 30 at Harvard Medical School.
Fiery Cushman, PhD is assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. From 2011-2014 he served as a post-doctoral fellow in moral psychology, funded by the Mind, Brain & Behavior Initiative at Harvard University.
Judith Edersheim, JD, MD is co-founder and co-director of the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an attending psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Amanda Pustilnik, JD is the Senior Fellow for Law & Applied Neuroscience at CLBB and the Petrie-Flom Center, CLBB faculty member, and Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Maryland School of Law.
This event, hosted by the Harvard Medical School Center for Bioethics, was co-sponsored by CLBB, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics, HLS; Institute for the Neurosciences, BWH; the Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, Harvard University; Center for Brain Science, Harvard University; and the Department of Neurobiology, HMS. Funding is provided by the Mind Brain Behavior Interfaculty Initiative, Harvard University and The Harvard Brain Initiative Collaborative Seed Grant Program.