Rehabilitation, not retribution

My research group has been spending a great deal of time recently discussing responsibility, especially in light of our neuroessentialist perspective.  The germ of the idea is this: everything that we do, every decision that we make is dependent upon the functioning of our brains. Moreover, the entire process is dependent upon the particular details of our brains’ neurochemistry, be it caused by our genetic heritage or our life experience. In fact, at the level of the synapse, the source of the neurochemical arrangement is probably irrelevant, and nature and nurture collapse into synaptic function. No voodoo. No mystery. Just chemistry.

We certainly recognize that such neuroessentialist thinking can be unnerving, and there is even data that suggests that such thinking can increase asocial behaviour (here and here). But a line of reasoning, best enunciated in Josh Greene and Jonathan Cohen’s highly influential paper on neuroscience and the law suggests that it is time to rethink our collective attitudes towards responsibility, especially when we think about how to deal with criminal behaviour. As David Eagleman suggests, perhaps it is time to use our impressive understanding of the human brain to find better ways to rehabilitate criminals rather than punish them.

It turns out that Norway is way ahead. Continue reading