"Brain Reasearch and Legal Responsibility"
(May 19-20, 2006, University of Bern)


Over the past few years, findings of brain researchers have been the subject of a highly controversial discourse between neuroscientists and philosophers. Since several of the main issues at stake, such as the understanding of free will, are closely linked to, and also highly influential in the field of jurisprudence, the Swiss section of the IVR (SVRSP) addressed, for the first time, this controversy from a legal perspective.

Hitherto, by explaining the determination of reality by brain physiological “facts”, the discourse has been dominated by the brain researchers. As a consequence of their findings they have postulated a change in the conception of man and society.

This concept is comparable to some of the essential features of the discussion about reshaping anthropology at the end of the 19th century, as well as in the 17th century. Our symposium used this parallelism as a starting point. The symposium went on by focussing on a critical reflection on the methodological approach for generating general knowledge of laws of nature as well as on the limits of knowledge transfer between natural sciences and social sciences. To the surprise of many participants, and in spite of conflicting opinions and controversial discourses, features of a convergent dialogue could be established.

The results of this symposium and the contributions of the speakers and of some participants are expected to be published by the end of this year as an “ARSP-Beiheft” by Marcel Senn and Dániel Puskás. Our symposium enjoyed great interest: over 90 participants attended and three national newspapers (Die Weltwoche, Basler Zeitung, and Tages Anzeiger) reported on the symposium. We hope to have initiated and contributed to a broad and continuing discourse upon this important issue.

Agenda of the Symposium

Media Coverage