What Science Says About the Age of Accountability

Rebecca Randall | Christianity Today

As far back as Aristotle, philosophers have assumed that the human mind at birth is a blank slate—tabula rasa. The articulated modern theory is generally attributed to John Locke, who argued that since people are born as a blank slate, they can author the content of their soul. Psychologist Sigmund Freud further asserted that the job of society, particularly parents, is to form children into moral, civilized beings. Subscribers to this view generally favor nurture in the classic nature versus nurture debate.

The legal concept of mens rea or “guilty mind” means to define at what point a child can understand and intentionally commit a crime. The emphasis is on intentionality, not guilt. Even if guilt can be proven, intentionality must also be proven before an individual can be punished. The concept grows out of the nurture perspective—society is responsible for moral development in children.

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