From Is to Ought. How Scientific Research in the Field of Moral Cognition Can Impact the Criminal Law

Cognitio: Student Law and Society Forum 1 (2):1–22 (2019)
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Rapid technological advancements such as fMRI have led to the rise of neuroscientific discoveries. Coupled with findings from cognitive psychology, they are claiming to have solved the millennia-old puzzle of moral cognition. If true, our societal structures – and with that the criminal law – would be gravely impacted. This thesis concerns itself with four distinct theories stemming from the disciplines above as to what mechanisms constitute moral judgement: the Stage Model by KOHLBERG, the Universal Moral Grammar Theory by MIKHAIL, the Social Intuitionist Model by HAIDT, and the Dual-Process Theory by GREENE – comparing the findings of the latter to the consequentialist and retributivist theories of punishment present in the American Criminal Law Doctrine. Analysing both a direct (link to deontology) and indirect (link to incompatibilism) approach to discrediting retributivism, I come to the conclusion that while science can have an impact on our morals and thus on the law, the current state of neuroscientific findings are not capable of shattering foundational notions of the criminal law.

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Levin Güver
University College London


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