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Brooklyn Law School CLE examines free will as a matter of law

September 15, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Law School professors Lawrence Solan (left) and Adam Kolber (right) hosted a continuing legal education lecture (CLE) that examined free will and the law. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Brooklyn Law School (BLS) hosted a continuing legal education (CLE) lecture that got a little more philosophical than most when professors Adam Kolber and Lawrence Solan discussed free will and how it pertains to the law.

The CLE titled “Law, Language & Cognition CLE Ethics Roundtable: Free Will as a Matter of Criminal Law” took a look at how some scientific evidence has changed the way people look at the brain and examined how it might affect our laws.

Solan, director of the Center for the Study of Law, Language and Cognition at BLS, served as a moderator and Kolber gave a one-hour-long presentation before opening the event up for discussion.

Kolber, who writes and teaches in the areas of criminal law, health law, bioethics and neurolaw, has become a leading expert in the relationship of brain science and the law. He created the Neuroethics & Law Blog and has taught law school courses devoted to the law and neuroscience. A graduate of Stanford Law School, he has taught at BLS since 2010.

“There are very controversial issues as we learn more about the brain,” said Solan. “It should affect our attitudes with how criminal justice should be dispensed. Professor Kolber is one of the leaders of investigating and developing the relationship between the ethical issues facing the criminal justice system and what we know about the human brain.”

During his lecture, Kolber spoke about some recent scientific research. Not claiming to endorse everything he discussed, he pointed out that new findings, at the very least, have been raising quite a few questions about how laws are enacted.

He discussed the various viewpoints on the issue — from the more modernist compatibilist view, in which people are becoming more aware that our environment has as much of an impact on our behavior as our own character — or the traditional soul-based libertarian view, which holds that people are rational, make decisions and need to be punished for bad ones.

“Because the criminal law was and continues to be crafted by soul-based libertarians, it was plausible never intended to punish people that make decisions in the mechanistic manner that scientists now take to characterize human choice,” Kolber said.

“There is really an impasse where people really don’t agree on some of this stuff,” he went on to say. “So that makes the current state of the law important. We might have to wrestle with figuring out how the law is.”

The talk certainly raised quite a lot of questions once the CLE was open for discussion, and while there seemed to be no general consensus among the group of attorneys, BLS faculty and law students, Kolber made his point that the law may need to be changed as we find out more through modern science.


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