Criminal Law and Philosophy

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 111–126 | Cite as

Morse, Mind, and Mental Causation

  • Michael S. PardoEmail author
  • Dennis Patterson
Original Paper


Stephen Morse’s illuminating scholarship on law and neuroscience relies on a “folk psychological” account of human behavior in order to defend the law’s foundations for ascribing legal responsibility. The heart of Morse’s account is the notion of “mental state causation,” in which mental states (e.g., beliefs, desires, and intentions) cause behavior. Morse argues that causation of this sort is necessary to support legal responsibility. We challenge this claim. First, we discuss problems with the conception of mental causation on which Morse appears to rely. Second, we present an alternative account to explain the link between mental states, reasons, and actions (the “rational–teleological” account). We argue that the alternative account avoids the conceptual problems that arise for Morse’s conception of mental causation and that it also undergirds ascriptions of legal responsibility. If the alternative succeeds, then Morse’s conception of “mental state causation” is not necessary to support legal responsibility.


Folk psychology Mental states Reasons Human action Explanation Causation 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Alabama School of LawTuscaloosaUSA
  2. 2.European University InstituteFlorenceItaly
  3. 3.Rutgers UniversityCamdenUSA
  4. 4.Swansea UniversitySwanseUK

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