On the Potential of Neuroscience: A Comment on Greene and Cohen’s "For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything"


In a recent article, Joshua Greene and Jonathan Cohen add their voices to an emerging discussion about the place of neuroscience in law and social policy. They argue convincingly that new data from the developing field of neuroscience will dramatically and positively change our legal system. I agree with their conclusions, but I believe that their commitment to a kind of neuroscientific determinism or essentialism is wrong, unnecessary, and even dangerous; it would move law in a direction that eliminates ongoing, normative decision-making. In the essay I have attached, I first set the stage by discussing the commitment of our legal system to compatibilism, which permits our jurisprudence to both accept the truth of determinism and insist on individual free will. Then I set the Greene and Cohen article within the debate about free will and highlight the positive contribution it makes, namely, forecasting the potential shift away from retributivism and toward a compassionate consequentialism. Finally, I suggest why their commitment to neurobiological essentialism is erroneous.


Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Jurisprudence | Science and Technology Law

Date of this Version

October 2005