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Neuroimaging psychopathy: lessons from Lombroso

  • T. B. Benning (a1)
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Abstract
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References
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Blair, R. J. R. (2003) Neurobiological basis of psychopathology. British Journal of Psychiatry, 182, 57.
Dolan, R. J. (1999) On the neurology of morals. Nature Neuroscience, 2, 927929.
Gould, S. J. (1980) Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Walsh, A. (2003) The Holy Trinity and the legacy of the Italian School of Criminal Anthropology. Human Nature Review, 2, III.
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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: 0007-1250
  • EISSN: 1472-1465
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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Neuroimaging psychopathy: lessons from Lombroso

  • T. B. Benning (a1)
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eLetters

Science and Free Will

Arthurr Rifkin, MD, psychiatrist
16 December 2003

T B Benning warns about the danger of deterministic theories of psychopathology undermining individual responsibility and serving to exculpate criminal offences, in his general criticism of depending on biological predictors of antisocial behavior. I believe his opinion does not conform to scientific psychiatry that asserts, as do all sciences, that all events have causes. To deny that in psychiatry because it threatens responsibility creates an unscientific special case for psychiatry that impedes scientific progress. How can free will and science coexist?

Belief in free will asserts a causeless cause. Should we say that people do not choose to have schizophrenia, but they do choose to commit crimes? How can we determine such a dividing line. The way to prevent the misuse of biological predictions of behavior, as Lombroso did, is to rely on good scientific research. Lombroso was wrong, not because he claimed that criminal behavior had biological roots, but because his data did not support his conclusion.

I am not talking about material reductionism: to assert that someday we will reduce all behavior to physics. That goes beyond the data. Attitudes, beliefs, experiences, do determine behavior, not just molecules, but we need not hold that such beliefs have no cause themselves. Let us look for predictors of criminality by all means wherever we can find them. Knowledge is good. Let us not label our ignorance of predictive variables as an incoherent belief in free will.
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Conflict of interest: None Declared

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