Seeing Responsibility: Can Neuroimaging Teach Us Anything about Moral and Legal Responsibility?

Hastings Center Report 44 (s2):37-49 (2014)
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Abstract

As imaging technologies help us understand the structure and function of the brain, providing insight into human capabilities as basic as vision and as complex as memory, and human conditions as impairing as depression and as fraught as psychopathy, some have asked whether they can also help us understand human agency. Specifically, could neuroimaging lead us to reassess the socially significant practice of assigning and taking responsibility?While responsibility itself is not a psychological process open to investigation through neuroimaging, decision‐making is. Over the past decade, different researchers and scholars have sought to use neuroimaging (or the results of neuroimaging studies) to investigate what is going on in the brain when we make decisions. The results of this research raise the question whether neuroscience—especially now that it includes neuroimaging—can and should alter our understandings of responsibility and our related practice of holding people responsible. It is this question that we investigate here.

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