On Consciousness and Criminal Responsibility

Thursday, October 10, 2013 - 7:00pm
Priory Auditorium

Traditionally, criminal responsibility was thought to be dependent upon assignment of intentional, conscious mental states that caused criminal harm. According to this view, in a criminal trial judges and juries look for evidence that a defendant possessed conscious mental states such as the "intent to kill" at the time an action caused criminal harm (such as a death). However, data from scientific psychology indicates that many of our reasons for action are sub-conscious. In addition, there are cases where defendants fail to make conscious their reasons for action, or their beliefs about the consequences of their acts, yet we still feel it is appropriate to hold them responsible. Katrina Sifferd, JD, PhD, associate professor of philosophy at Elmhurst College, argues that what matters for criminal responsibility is not that the culpable mental state is conscious, but that the defendant could have made it conscious, had he or she so chosen.

General Admission: