Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 8, Issue 1, pp 1–20 | Cite as

Direct Brain Interventions and Responsibility Enhancement

  • Elizabeth ShawEmail author
Original Paper


Advances in neuroscience might make it possible to develop techniques for directly altering offenders’ brains, in order to make offenders more responsible and law-abiding. The idea of using such techniques within the criminal justice system can seem intuitively troubling, even if they were more effective in preventing crime than traditional methods of rehabilitation. One standard argument against this use of brain interventions is that it would undermine the individual’s free will. This paper maintains that ‘free will’ (at least, as that notion is understood by those who adopt the influential compatibilist approach) is an inadequate basis for explaining what is problematic about some direct brain interventions. This paper then defends an alternative way of objecting to certain kinds of direct brain interventions, focusing on the relationship between the offender and the state rather than the notion of free will. It opposes the use of interventions which aim to enhance ‘virtue responsibility’ (by instilling particular values about what is right and wrong), arguing that this would objectify offenders. In contrast, it argues that it may be acceptable to use direct brain interventions to enhance ‘capacity responsibility’ (i.e. to strengthen the abilities necessary for the exercise of responsible agency, such as self-control). Finally it considers how to distinguish these different kinds of responsibility enhancement.


Responsibility Moral enhancement Free will Neurolaw Rehabilitation Dialogue Objectification Neuroenhancement 



My research was funded by the Clark Foundation for Legal Education and by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I am grateful to Antony Duff, Gerben Meynen, James Chalmers and Nicole Vincent for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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