The Theory of Substantial Cognitive Capacity of Criminal Defendants with Mental Disorders in China: Theoretical Content and Judicial Application

Pengfei Jiang


When dealing with criminal cases involving defendants with mental disorders in China, the theory of substantial cognitive capacity holds significant importance. Although derived from the insanity defense rule of the U.S. Model Penal Code, this concept exhibits certain distinctions. Forensic experts in China frequently deem defendants with mental disorders as lacking substantial cognitive capacity, thus rendering them not criminally responsible. The Chinese theory of substantial cognitive capacity possesses its unique characteristics, setting China apart from other countries in addressing the insanity defense issue. Consequently, introducing this Chinese theory to scholars in other jurisdictions holds considerable academic value. However, the interpretation of substantial cognitive capacity and its relation to cognitive capacity remain subjects of controversy in China, with inconsistent application of this theory. Specifically, some scholars have advocated the theory of common sense cognitive capacity, effectively challenging the mainstream theory of substantial cognitive capacity. The author contends that substantial cognitive capacity should be comprehended from the perspective of the dialectical unity of “phenomenon” and “essence”. The term “substantial cognitive capacity” should be employed from a negative standpoint to underscore the progressive link between the possession of “formal” cognitive capacity and the loss of “substantial” cognitive capacity, while the theory of common sense cognitive capacity should be dismissed. The proper judicial application of the theory of substantial cognitive capacity aids in adhering to the normative requirements of criminal law, emphasizes the logic of stratified criminal theory, and furnishes the judiciary with a theoretical instrument for appropriately handling criminal cases.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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