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Memory and legal/moral accountability

Skeptic Bob

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Let’s say you commit a murder. Normally you are a law abiding person but in the heat of the moment, maybe due to adultery or something, you snap and kill a person. You are arrested, convicted, and sent to prison with a life sentence.

A few months later something happens. Maybe you are hit over the head or get a disease or something. But the end result is you have retrograde amnesia, and have lost ALL memory from the past couple years, to include any memory of the crime. From your perspective you woke up in prison with zero idea of how you got there. Let’s also assume the medical technology is good enough to determine with certainty that you are not faking.

Other than the amnesia, which doctors say is permanent, you have otherwise recovered and are physically healthy and can think rationally.

Should you stay in prison or be released? Is any justice served by punishing a person for a crime that they have no memory of committing or planning?

This is going to eventually lead into some other questions about the self, memory, technology and the law.

My personal belief is that we ARE our memories. Remove a chunk of those memories and we are a different person. So my current position is that in the scenario above the convict should have their sentence commuted. In real life I would worry about the person faking, but in this hypothetical we know the person is not faking.
 

Angel

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...
Should you stay in prison or be released? Is any justice served by punishing a person for a crime that they have no memory of committing or planning?
...
Of course you stay in prison and serve out the sentence. The rest of society doesn't have amnesia. Justice is a broader concept than the OP makes it out to be.
 

VINLO

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Let’s say you commit a murder. Normally you are a law abiding person but in the heat of the moment, maybe due to adultery or something, you snap and kill a person. You are arrested, convicted, and sent to prison with a life sentence.

A few months later something happens. Maybe you are hit over the head or get a disease or something. But the end result is you have retrograde amnesia, and have lost ALL memory from the past couple years, to include any memory of the crime. From your perspective you woke up in prison with zero idea of how you got there. Let’s also assume the medical technology is good enough to determine with certainty that you are not faking.

Other than the amnesia, which doctors say is permanent, you have otherwise recovered and are physically healthy and can think rationally.

Should you stay in prison or be released? Is any justice served by punishing a person for a crime that they have no memory of committing or planning?

This is going to eventually lead into some other questions about the self, memory, technology and the law.

My personal belief is that we ARE our memories. Remove a chunk of those memories and we are a different person. So my current position is that in the scenario above the convict should have their sentence commuted. In real life I would worry about the person faking, but in this hypothetical we know the person is not faking.

Our memories are part of our identity, even a large part of our identity, but they are not the totality of our identity.

Also, losing the memory of the crime (regardless of how that happens) does not then excuse the fact that at the time the crime was committed, the criminal was deemed sane and morally responsible. As Angel said, justice goes way beyond just the convicted's sense of memory or guilt.

Now, if this criminal with sudden memory loss actually cannot remember why he is in prison, we are morally obligated to inform him. You can't imprison someone who doesn't understand why they are in prison. So, as soon as he is sufficiently recovered to ask questions, we must answer them.
 
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