Original Paper

Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 21-42

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Restoring Responsibility: Promoting Justice, Therapy and Reform Through Direct Brain Interventions

  • Nicole A VincentAffiliated withPhilosophy Department, Macquarie UniversityPhilosophy Section, TU Delft Email author 


Direct brain intervention based mental capacity restoration techniques—for instance, psycho-active drugs—are sometimes used in criminal cases to promote the aims of justice. For instance, they might be used to restore a person’s competence to stand trial in order to assess the degree of their responsibility for what they did, or to restore their competence for punishment so that we can hold them responsible for it. Some also suggest that such interventions might be used for therapy or reform in criminal legal contexts—i.e. to make non-responsible and irresponsible people more responsible. However, I argue that such interventions may at least sometimes fail to promote these responsibility-related legal aims. This is because responsibility hinges on other factors than just what mental capacities a person has—in particular, it also hinges on such things as authenticity, personal identity, and mental capacity ownership—and some ways of restoring mental capacity may adversely affect these other factors. Put one way, my claim is that what might suffice for the restoration of competence need not necessarily suffice for the restoration of responsibility, or, put another way, that although responsibility indeed tracks mental capacity it may not always track restored mental capacities.


Capacitarianism Responsibility Mental capacity restoration Direct brain intervention Competence for trial Competence for punishment Competence for release Justice Therapy Reform Charactarianism