Neuroscience and the Law: Free will, responsibility and punishment

Exploratory Award

Project Team:

Principal Investigator:

Professor Helen Beebee, University of Manchester (formerly University of London)


Dr. Marion Godman (Institute of Philosophy, School of Advanced Study, University of London

Award Information:

This Exploratory Award project focused on bringing together academics to debate the effect that recent advances in Neurosceince may have on legal matters, especially with regard to legal and moral responsibility. A large part of the purpose of this project was to identify and begin to forge collaborative relationships between, lawyers, philosophers and neuroscientists interested in questions of responsibility.

Over the last ten years or so there has been a considerable amount of debate, in the media as well as in academic and legal circles, concerning the actual and potential impact of advances in neuroscience on legal matters – in particular in the areas of legal responsibility, mitigation, and the assessment of risk of reoffending. At the same time, there has been a corresponding debate about the relevance of the findings of neuroscience to more philosophical questions concerning freedom of the will and moral responsibility.

Two large-scale research projects in the US have focussed, relatively independently, on these two areas of debate, with the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Law and Neuroscience ( focussing on the first and the Templeton Foundation’s Big Questions in Free Will programme funding several interdisciplinary projects on the science of free will ( ‘The Mind, the Brain and the Law’ took some first steps towards bringing these two areas of debate together in a UK context, focussing on the notion of responsibility.

Further information:

A Case Study (PDF) of this AHRC Science in Culture Theme Exploratory Award is available to download here.

Project dates: February- August 2012