Original Paper

Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 51-77

First online:

Crimes Against Minds: On Mental Manipulations, Harms and a Human Right to Mental Self-Determination

  • Jan Christoph BublitzAffiliated withFaculty of Law, Institute of Criminal Law and Legal Philosophy, University of Hamburg Email author 
  • , Reinhard MerkelAffiliated withFaculty of Law, Institute of Criminal Law and Legal Philosophy, University of Hamburg

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The neurosciences not only challenge assumptions about the mind’s place in the natural world but also urge us to reconsider its role in the normative world. Based on mind-brain dualism, the law affords only one-sided protection: it systematically protects bodies and brains, but only fragmentarily minds and mental states. The fundamental question, in what ways people may legitimately change mental states of others, is largely unexplored in legal thinking. With novel technologies to both intervene into minds and detect mental activity, the law should, we suggest, introduce stand alone protection for the inner sphere of persons. We shall address some metaphysical questions concerning physical and mental harm and demonstrate gaps in current doctrines, especially in regard to manipulative interferences with decision-making processes. We then outline some reasons for the law to recognize a human right to mental liberty and propose elements of a novel criminal offence proscribing severe interventions into other minds.


Mental self-determination Mental integrity Cognitive liberty, manipulation Emotional harm Mental and bodily injury Dualism Freedom of thought