How NOT To Do Law, Philosophy, and Neuroscience

I’ve just returned from the Understanding Humans through Neuroscience conference at the American Enterprise Institute, where I heard papers by Roger Scruton, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, and Stephen Morse. What struck me was how mired the three papers were in defending against a certain kind of agency-undermining determinism that few people take seriously any more. All of them were worried about the implications of this kind of case:

a 40-year-old man who inexplicably became a sexual impulsive with paedophilia. The patient had no prior history of sexual misconduct, but it was soon noted that he was frequenting prostitutes and that he attempted to molest his 12-year-old step-daughter. He was quickly reported to the local authorities, was found guilty of child molestation, and was sentenced to either attend a 12-step sexual addiction program or face jail. Despite a strong yearning not to go to prison, the patient could not inhibit his sexual impulses. It was soon discovered that the defendant had a large tumour pressing on his right orbitofrontal cortex (Figure 2). Upon the resection of the tumour, the patient’s sexual impulsiveness diminished. When the sexual impulsiveness later reappeared, a brain scan revealed that the tumour had grown back. A second resection of tumour again diminished the patient’s sexual impulsiveness [42].

This is basically an unrepeatable experiment in neuroanatomy, but for some reason folks in law really worry about it. Continue reading How NOT To Do Law, Philosophy, and Neuroscience