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This article was presented at “Guilty Minds: A Virtual Conference on Mens Rea and Criminal Justice Reform” at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. It is forthcoming in Arizona State Law Journal Volume 53, Issue 2.

The thesis of this article is simple: As long as we maintain the current folk psychological conception of ourselves as intentional and potentially rational creatures, as people and not simply as machines, mental states will inevitably remain central to ascriptions of culpability and responsibility more generally. It is also desirable. Nonetheless, we are in a condition of unprecedented internal challenges to the importance of mental states in the context of mental abnormalities and of external challenges to personhood and agency based on the new behavioral neuroscience and genetics. The latter challengers argue that the central role the criminal law gives to mental states is deeply misguided. All these challenges should fail on conceptual and empirical grounds.


Criminal law, mental state, mens rea, culpability, responsibility, blame, folk psychological agent, mental abnormalities, challenges to personhood & first-person agency, mental disorders, legal insanity, neuroscience, determinism, responsible agents

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Arizona State Law Journal