Emotion and the Courts: The Role of Remorse
Jurisprudence, Applied Ethics, Philosophy of Mind
Within Western judicial systems the emotions of defendants often play an important role in determining their sentences. Judges, in common with laymen, are inclined to show a degree of leniency towards those who display what are perceived to be appropriate emotions towards their past wrongdoing. This raises a number of issues, such as: how is it possible to distinguish between false emotions and real ones, especially in a situation where there is a powerful incentive to lie? What constitutes a genuine expression of remorse? Must it be backed by actions which in some way 'verify' the emotion of the individual concerned? Is there any conceivable way for us to have true knowledge of emotions, or is there always sufficient doubt to undermine the use of expressions of remorse as reason to show leniency in legal situations? Is there simply an insurmountable epistemic gap that should render emotion irrelevant in legal situations?
Despite the persistence of these unresolved issues, remorse continues to play an influential (and somewhat hazy) role in sentencing; a role which is based predominantly on folk psychology rather than scientific research. In order to address this problem, my research will draw on work in psychology, philosophy of mind and legal philosophy with the goal of providing a detailed analysis of the role remorse can and should play in legal contexts.
Before coming to Manchester I completed undergraduate and master’s degrees in philosophy, both at Lancaster University.
My current research is funded by an AHRC doctoral award as part of the larger Knowledge of Emotion: Expression and Social Cognition project (directed by Joel Smith and Catharine Abell).
Values We Live By (Semester 1); Discovering Reality (Semester 2)