Our Brain “Kant” Tell Us? A Kantian Perspective of how Neuroscience Challenges our Notions of Moral Responsibility and the Legal Implications

Joel Quek


Neuroscientific research has not only proved to be vital in our increasing understanding of human nature, but has also led to much normative discourse revolving around morality and law. There has been much work done regarding how neuroscience should inform us on issues regarding moral responsibility. In this paper, I propose to employ a Kantian moral framework to consider these issues more carefully. I argue that generally, neuroscience cannot undermine the concept that rational beings are morally responsible for their actions. However, within the same Kantian moral philosophical framework, I will consider how it is that certain individuals can be excused for their actions or have their responsibility mitigated. This will be done by focusing on the interaction between neuroscientific evidence and the capacity of certain individuals to engage with categorical and hypothetical imperatives. I will consider how it is that neuroscientific evidence can serve as an a priori excusing condition for moral responsibility, and equally importantly, when it cannot. I then go on to explore how our understanding of the workings of the brain can improve legal doctrine. I suggest that neuroscience can help to demonstrate that certain psychological criteria underlying particular legal doctrine might be inaccurate, and to improve our sentencing policies in order to better fulfil both retributive and rehabilitative aims and the criminal law.

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