Direct Brain Interventions and Responsibility Enhancement

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Advances in neuroscience might make it possible to develop techniques for directly altering offenders’ brains, in order to make offenders more responsible and law-abiding. The idea of using such techniques within the criminal justice system can seem intuitively troubling, even if they were more effective in preventing crime than traditional methods of rehabilitation. One standard argument against this use of brain interventions is that it would undermine the individual’s free will. This paper maintains that ‘free will’ (at least, as that notion is understood by those who adopt the influential compatibilist approach) is an inadequate basis for explaining what is problematic about some direct brain interventions. This paper then defends an alternative way of objecting to certain kinds of direct brain interventions, focusing on the relationship between the offender and the state rather than the notion of free will. It opposes the use of interventions which aim to enhance ‘virtue responsibility’ (by instilling particular values about what is right and wrong), arguing that this would objectify offenders. In contrast, it argues that it may be acceptable to use direct brain interventions to enhance ‘capacity responsibility’ (i.e. to strengthen the abilities necessary for the exercise of responsible agency, such as self-control). Finally it considers how to distinguish these different kinds of responsibility enhancement.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages21
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
Issue number1
Early online date8 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014


  • responsibility
  • moral enhancement
  • free will
  • neurolaw
  • rehabilitation
  • dialogue
  • objectification
  • neuroenhancement


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