[Edit: The Situationist has jumped on this too]
The Brain on the Stand is an approachable introduction to this growing discipline, and mentions researchers to watch: Joshua Green, Jonathan Cohen and Owen Jones (among others). Not mentioned is the great work by experimental philosophers such as Joshua Knobe.
At present, two hot areas of research dig deep into issues important to the law:
- Associating brain states with ‘private information‘: thoughts, memories, and beliefs (conscious or not). Applications may include lie detection during interrogation, screening for bias in jury selection, and punishing people for their thoughts.
- Cementing the causal connection between brain biology and immoral behaviour. This apparent erosion of free will has implications for criminal responsibility, although legal scholars such as Stephen J. Morse warn against ‘blame shifting’.
As yet, no-one seems to have noticed that these areas of research seem to be pointed in different directions. On the one hand, the technology may allow us to find new things to punish: bad thoughts and future intentions. On the other hand, the science is calling into question the idea of punishment, and asks us to consider bad behaviour as a disease to be treated instead of an evil to be revenged.
It would be interesting to watch which of these (admittedly broad) area of research receives greater funding, and what that might say about the acceptance of these types of research.
Can we tolerate a world without punishment? Definitely a topic for an online poll, if only I could figure out how to enable one. Check back later to see if I succeed.