Does Brain Difference Affect Legal and Moral Responsibility? image

March 30, 2015 4:30 PM
Lectures and Panels
Armenise Building D, Amphitheater
Harvard Medical School, 210 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA

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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 ways in 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? Join us for a provocative discussion on the state of the art at the intersection of neuroethics, brain science, philosophy, and the law.


Dr. Fiery Cushman, PhDis an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. From 2011-2014 he served as a psotdoctoral fellow in moral psychology, funded by the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative at Harvard University. 

Dr. Judith Edersheim, MD, JDis Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an attending Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Amanda Pustilnik, JDis the Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience at the Petrie-Flom Center and the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, a faculty member of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, and an assistant professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law.


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This event was cosponsored by the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School.


bioethics   criminal law   health law policy   neuroscience