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March 25, 2011

"Neuroscientific Challenges to Retributivism"

The title of this post is the title of this notable book chapter by Professors Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

We examine two recent challenges to retribution-based justifications for criminal punishment based on neuroscientific evidence.  The first seeks to undermine retributivism because of the brain activity of subjects engaged in punishment decisions for retributive (as opposed to consequentialist) reasons.  This challenge proceeds by linking retributivism with deontological moral theories and the brain activity correlated with deontological moral judgments.  The second challenge seeks to undermine retributivism by exposing, through neuroscientific information, the purportedly implausible foundation on which retributivism depends: one based on free will and folk psychology.

We conclude that neither challenge succeeds.  The first challenge fails, in part, because the brain activity of punishers does not provide the appropriate criteria for whether judgments regarding criminal punishment are justified or correct.  Moreover, retributivism does not necessarily depend on the success or failure of any particular moral theory.  The second challenge fails because neuroscience does not undermine the conceptions of free will or folk psychology on which retributivism depends.  Along the way, we point out a number of faulty inferences and problematic assumptions and presuppositions involved in these challenges to retributivism.

March 25, 2011 at 08:35 AM | Permalink


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I think I would agree with this article if I could decipher the jargon.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 25, 2011 10:11:50 AM

Better argument against second challenge:

Assume that retributivism is groundless because we don't have free will. Too bad, because we don't have a choice in adopting or rejecting retributivism as a theory.

Posted by: Res ipsa | Mar 25, 2011 2:34:08 PM

Retributism is Iraqi tribal culture bs. Those are the people who wrote the Bible. The first aim and the last aim of government is security. It takes care of securioty and we pay it to do it. This Iraqi tribal culture bs has no scientific evidence of protecting anybody, and violates the Establishment Clause. Indeed, it sets up a system of perpetual duty to avenge for both sides of a dispute, reducing security.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 26, 2011 5:38:36 AM

Res ipsa --


Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2011 11:03:34 AM

Wow, this is too cool. I am very like it, Thank you for sharing, let me so happy!

Posted by: Big pony | Apr 11, 2011 6:16:04 AM

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