Without Taste: Psychopaths and the Appreciation of Art

Psychopaths are the bugbears of moral philosophy. They are often used as examples of perfectly rational people who are nonetheless willing to do great moral wrong without regret; hence the disorder has received the epithet “moral insanity” (Pritchard 1835). But whereas philosophers have had a great deal to say about psychopaths’ glaring and often horrifying lack of moral conscience, their aesthetic capacities have received hardly any attention, and are generally assumed to be intact or even enhanced. Popular culture often portrays psychopaths in ways that suggest a great gap between their amorality and their aesthetic sensitivity. In The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991), Hannibal Lecter appreciates fine art, fashion, and wine, while he eats his way through his enemies. His real-life counterparts, however, do not demonstrate the same sensitivities. There is no evidence that psychopaths are capable of real aesthetic appreciation, and some evidence that they are not. In this paper, we set out the limited evidence for the psychopath’s deficient aesthetic sensitivity. The best explanations of what the psychopath lacks turn out to implicate abilities that are also thought to be central to moral thought and action: an impaired capacity for empathizing with others and deficient ability to take a disinterested attitude towards things (socalled distance). We endorse the latter explanation. Thinking about what underlies the psychopath’s deficient aesthetic understanding turns out to throw light on a difficult problem: the connection between ethics and aesthetics.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index Translate to english
Download options
PhilPapers Archive Heidi Maibom, Without Taste: Psychopaths and the Appreciation of Art
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Neil Levy (2007). The Responsibility of the Psychopath Revisited. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 14 (2):pp. 129-138.
Carl Elliott (1992). Diagnosing Blame: Responsibility and the Psychopath. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 17 (2):199-214.
Jeanette Kennett (2002). Autism, Empathy and Moral Agency. Philosophical Quarterly 52 (208):340-357.
Christopher Ciocchetti (2003). The Responsibility of the Psychopathic Offender. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 10 (2):175-183.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

156 ( #26,453 of 1,940,981 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

17 ( #40,325 of 1,940,981 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.