[ExI] insanity plea

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Wed Feb 27 00:12:10 UTC 2013

On 25/02/2013 18:49, John Clark wrote:
> On Sun, Feb 24, 2013 Anders Sandberg <anders at aleph.se 
> <mailto:anders at aleph.se>> wrote:
>     > Criminals are assumed to know right from wrong but choose to do
>     wrong; mentally ill people might or might not have that ability
> I don't understand what ability you're talking about. If you choose to 
> do wrong you either did it for a reason (bad genes or a bad 
> environment or both) or you did a bad thing for no reason whatsoever 
> (a random quantum fluctuation in your head). Neither possibility would 
> matter to me in the slightest if you were chasing me with a bloody ax, 
> I don't care why you're doing it I just want you to stop.

We are not talking about the ax-chase part, but what happens once I get 
caught by the police and/or doctors.

If I was chasing after you because you owed me money, then it is a 
matter for the justice system: I had a reason, I was aware that I could 
harm you and that this was against the law and common decency (even 
though the debt might have been big). I choose (using the neural 
mechanisms of action selection in my brain) to use the ax instead of 
sending lawyers after you. I had a choice: humans in this kind of 
situation can and do use non-violent means to get their money.

If I was chasing after you because I believed that you were a leprechaun 
who stole my name, then that is evidence that my reality checking is 
broken and it is a matter for the hospital. Nobody says that delusional 
people have a real choice (they do not update their beliefs when given 
clear evidence against them).

> And I think preventing things like that is the only reason to have 
> criminal law at all, and so in a logical world that would leave no 
> room whatsoever for the insanity defense.

See my other recent post: you might disagree, but people actually have a 
lot of other reasons for criminal law. And many of these make the 
insanity defence totally sensible. (But it is not applicable to that 
many crimes.)

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford University

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