Colloquium: Criminal responsibility and free will

ABSTRACT: Free will is often considered central to forensic psychiatric assessment of criminal responsibility. Yet, there is also a lack of clarity – and some concern – about the role that the concept of ‘free will’ plays in this assessment. People are particularly concerned that ‘free will’ might embroil psychiatrists in difficult philosophical problems about free will and neurobiological determinism. Recently, it has been suggested that in order to avoid confusion it would be better if forensic psychiatrists stopped thinking about free will. In this paper I will analyze the problem of free will in forensic assessments and investigate how forensic psychiatry could deal with it. I will argue that ‘free will’ is a serious philosophical problem, which is, in a way, relevant to forensic practice. Forensic psychiatrists, however, should not let themselves be distracted by metaphysical problems. They should focus on the practical unclarity about the assessment, which is profound. I will try to show, briefly, how recent neuroscientific research could help clarifying forensic assessment of criminal responsibility.