The Promise of Neuroscience for Law: Hope or Hype?

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



This chapter addresses the potential contributions of neuroscience to legal policy in general and criminal justice in particular. The central question is whether neuroscience is relevant to legal policy. The chapter begins with speculation about the source of claims for the positive influence of neuroscience. It then turns to the scientific status of behavioral neuroscience. The next section considers the two radical challenges to current policies that neuroscience allegedly poses: determinism and the death of agency. The penultimate section addresses the question of the specific relevance of neuroscience to legal doctrine, practice and institutions. The final section points to some areas warranting modest optimism. The general conclusion, however, is that neuroscience is scarcely useful at present but may become more relevant as the science progresses.


Criminal justice policy, behavioral neuroscience, philosophy of action, responsibility, free will, determinism, folk psychology, mental states, mens rea, culpability, competency, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI

Publication Title

The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy

Publication Citation

In The Palgrave Handbook of Philosophy and Public Policy 77-96 (David Boonin ed., 2018)