You shall be changed

by Saskia Polder-Verkiel

Developments in neuroscience are fast-paced. Suppose it were possible with some neurological intervention to alter people’s minds in such a way that, for instance, recidivists of heinous crimes would stop recidivising. In which circumstances would it be permissible to subject a person to such an intervention?

To answer this question, we must know more about the precise nature of this intervention, but that in turn hinges on precisely how the perpetrator would be categorised, as interventions can be viewed in different ways depending on the categorisation of their subjects. For instance, if the perpetrator is viewed as “bad” then the intervention might be categorised as a modification of their character, but if they are viewed as “mad” then the intervention might be categorised as a medical treatment.

Either categorisation leads to its own set of questions, answers to which bear on whether it would be legitimate (or not) to perform the intervention. In this presentation I will provide an inventory of such questions, survey some possible answers, and comment on how this bears on whether such neurological interventions would be permissible or not.