“Does neuroscience threaten human values?”


note year 1998

“Neuroimaging and Capital Punishment “


“In the end, while the goals of making capital sentencing more rational and humane are laudable, the cognitive neuroscience project to do so is ill-conceived. Because that project’s short- and long-term aims are intractably opposed to one another, its impact likely will be the opposite of what it seeks. It is unclear whether it is possible (or desirable) to salvage the project in a way that will preserve its humanitarian ends. It may be that the reductive materialist account of human personhood and human agency posited by cognitive neuroscience — and, indeed, by modern science more generally — is fundamentally incompatible with the account on which the criminal law is premised. This should lead us to question the assumptions underlying cognitive neuroscience no less than those underlying the criminal law. If we examine both through the lens of our humanitarian aspirations, we are likely to discover that the wisdom behind our laws fares a good deal better than we imagined against the assumptions (often masquerading as hard facts) behind the new science of the brain. Not surprisingly, dehumanization turns out not to be humane.”

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