Indispensable Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology: The (Non) Challenge from Neuroscience

Stephen J. Morse, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

In The Evolution of Forensic Psychiatry: History, Current Developments, Future Directions (Robert Sadoff ed., Oxford 2015)


This chapter suggests that forensic psychiatry and psychology will remain indispensable contributors to criminal (and civil) law for the foreseeable future despite any likely advances from neuroscience or any other science. The reason is straightforward. The criminal law’s criteria for responsibility and competence are acts and mental states and the law’s model of the person is folk psychological, a being that can potentially be guided by reason and thus for whom mental states do play a partial causal explanatory role. Even when most relying on a scientific data base, forensic psychiatry and psychology are also resolutely folk psychological because they attempt to shed light on the subjects acts and mental states. Therefore, the most resolutely biologically oriented forensic psychiatry or psychology will have to translate its biological or other scientific data into the law’s folk psychological criteria. A neuroscientist or geneticist, for example, cannot do this directly. At most, they can provide useful data. It is the forensic practitioner that must explain the meaning of such data and clinical findings.