Non-Eliminative Reductionism: Not the Theory of Mind Some Responsibility Theorists Want, but the One They Need

In Bebhinn Donnelly-Lazarov (ed.), Neurolaw and Responsibility for Action: Concepts, Crimes, and Courts. Cambridge University Press. pp. 71-103 (2018)
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This chapter will argue that the criminal law is most compatible with a specific theory regarding the mind/body relationship: non-eliminative reductionism. Criminal responsibility rests upon mental causation: a defendant is found criminally responsible for an act where she possesses certain culpable mental states (mens rea under the law) that are causally related to criminal harm. If we assume the widely accepted position of ontological physicalism, which holds that only one sort of thing exists in the world – physical stuff – non-eliminative reductive physicalism about the mind offers the most plausible account of the full-bodied mental causation criminal responsibility requires. Other theories of the mind/body relationship, including elminativism and non-reductive physicalism, threaten criminal responsibility because they do not offer satisfactory accounts of mental causation. Eliminativism, as the name implies, eliminates the mental or is skeptical that it can do the causal work necessary to responsibility; and non-reductive theories disconnect the mental from the physical/casual world such that the mental can no longer have reliable causal effects.

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Katrina L. Sifferd
Elmhurst College


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