For The Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything

Joshua Greene, Jonathan Cohen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The law has taken a long-standing interest in the mind. Cognitive neuroscience, the study of the mind through the brain, has gained prominence in part as a result of the advent of functional neuroimaging as a widely used tool for psychological research. Existing legal principles make virtually no assumptions about the neural bases of criminal behavior, and as a result they can comfortably assimilate new neuroscience without much in the way of conceptual upheaval: new details, new sources of evidence, but nothing for which the law is fundamentally unprepared. Neuroscience challenges ultimately reshape our intuitive sense of justice. It draws a familiar distinction between the consequentialist justification for state punishment, according to which punishment is merely an instrument for promoting future social welfare, and the retributivist justification for punishment, according to which the principal aim of punishment is to give people what they deserve based on their past actions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationOxford Handbook of Neuroethics
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191743948
ISBN (Print)9780199570706
StatePublished - Nov 21 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Cognitive neuroscience
  • Criminal behavior
  • Legal principles
  • Neuroimaging
  • Psychological research


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