The question of the psychopath's responsibility for his or her wrongdoing has received considerable attention. Much of this attention has been directed toward whether psychopaths are a counterexample to motivational internalism (MI): Do they possess normal moral beliefs, which fail to motivate them? In this paper, I argue that this is a question that remains conceptually and empirically intractable, and that we ought to settle the psychopath's responsibility in some other way. I argue that recent empirical work on (...) the moral judgments of psychopaths provides us with good reason to think that they are not fully responsible agents, because their actions cannot express the kinds of ill-will toward others that grounds attributions of distinctively moral responsibility. I defend this view against objections, especially those due to an influential account of moral responsibility that holds that moral knowledge is not necessary for responsibility. (shrink)
Psychopathy involves impaired capacity for prudential and moral reasoning due to impaired capacity for empathy, remorse, and sensitivity to fear-inducing stimuli. Brain abnormalities and genetic polymorphisms associated with these traits appear to justify the claim that psychopaths cannot be morally responsible for their behavior. Yet psychopaths are capable of instrumental reasoning in achieving their goals, which suggests that they have some capacity to respond to moral reasons against performing harmful acts and refrain from performing them. The cognitive and affective impairment (...) of the psychopath justifies mitigated responsibility, but not excuse. (shrink)
Responsibility theorists frequently discuss psychopathy because it challenges various accounts of the capacities required for appropriate ascriptions of moral and legal responsibility. As often described, the psychopath has the capacity to reason practically but lacks the capacity to grasp and control himself in light of moral considerations. As portrayed, then, the psychopath resides in the area of disagreement between two philosophical camps: (i) theorists who put forth the general capacity for practical reasoning or rational self-governance as sufficient for (...) an agent to be appropriately held morally responsible for his conduct; and (ii) theorists who view that general capacity as necessary but not sufficient for moral responsibility, additionally requiring the capacity to grasp and respond to distinctly moral reasons. On the former view, we may appropriately hold psychopaths responsible for their wrongful actions, but not on the latter. This article does not aim to describe the opposing views and argue for one over the other. Rather, I propose to deflate the debate as far as possible, attempting to reduce the area of disagreement. Meaningful disagreement exists only if there are, or could be, agents who have an undiminished capacity for practical reasoning or rational self-governance, yet truly are incapable of moral reasoning. However, I suggest that the capacity for rational self-governance entails the capacity to comprehend and act on moral considerations; thus, to the extent that an individual truly is incapable of grasping moral reasons, we should expect to find deeper, more general deficiencies in that individual's rational capacities. I appeal to the work of leading researchers who study individuals with psychopathy to determine whether psychopaths do represent rational self-governors without the capacity to grasp moral considerations. I argue that this work strongly suggests that the psychopath's incapacity for moral reasoning is, indeed, evidence of more general deficits in the rational capacities required for fully accountable agency. The Article closes with relevant considerations for thinking about any implications for criminal law. (shrink)
The diagnosis of psychopathy is controversial largely because of two notions: first, that because of their defects, psychopaths cannot understand morality, and second, that these defects should thus excuse psychopaths from moral responsibility for their actions. However, it is not clear just what is involved in understanding morality. The argument that the psychopath is ignorant of morality in the same way that one might be ignorant of facts is difficult to sustain. However, a closer examination of the psychopath's (...) peculiar deficiencies reveals that the psychopath's understanding of morality might be impaired in other ways. Keywords: disease, ethics, philosophy, psychopathy, psychiatry, responsibility CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this? (shrink)
It is common for philosophers to argue that psychopaths are not morally responsible because they lack some of the essential capacities for morality. In legal terms, they are criminally insane. Typically, however, the insanity defense is not available to psychopaths. The primary reason is that they appear to have the knowledge and understanding required under the M’Naghten Rules. However, it has been argued that what is required for moral and legal responsibility is ‘deep’ moral understanding, something that psychopaths do not (...) have either due to their lacking empathy or practical reason. In the first part of the paper, I argue that psychopaths do not lack the abilities required for deep moral understanding, although they have deficits in those areas. According the M’Naghten Rules, therefore, psychopaths are not insane. Under a less strict formulation of the insanity plea, like the Model Penal Code, however, there is a good case to be made for their lacking substantial capacity. I argue that because psychopathy is an essentially moral disorder, and because of the nature of psychopathic violence, psychopaths should not be excused under the insanity plea. It would be tantamount to excusing someone for committing a crime because they are bad. Arguably, this contravenes the entire system of law. (shrink)
A pressing and difficult practical problem concerns the general issue of the right social response to offenders classified as having antisocial personality disorder. This paper approaches this general problem by focusing, from a philosophical perspective, on the still relevant but more approachable question whether psychopathic offenders are morally responsible. In particular, I investigate whether psychopaths possess moral understanding. A plausible way to approach the last question requires a satisfactory philosophical interpretation of the empirical evidence that appears to show that psychopaths (...) fail to draw the distinction between conventional and moral norms. Specifically, I will consider a recent philosophical debate polarized between supporters of rationalist and sentimentalist accounts of moral understanding. These opponents have discussed whether the case of psychopathy offers empirical support for their account and undermine the rival view. I will argue that the available empirical data leave the outcome of this discussion indeterminate. However, this implies that both these principal theories of moral understanding, if independently motivated, would imply that psychopaths have certain deficits that might affect their moral understanding and, consequently, their moral responsibility. (shrink)
The emerging neuroscience of psychopathy will have several important implications for our attempts to construct an ethical society. In this article we begin by describing the list of criteria by which psychopaths are diagnosed. We then review four competing neuropsychological theories of psychopathic cognition. The first of these models, Newman’s attentional model, locates the problem in a special type of attentional narrowing that psychopaths have shown in experiments. The second and third, Blair’s amygdala model and Kiehl’s paralimbic model represent the (...)psychopath’s problem as primarily emotional, including reduced tendency to experience fear in normally fearful situations, and a failure to attach the proper significance to the emotions of others. The fourth model locates the problem at a higher level: a failure of psychopaths to notice and correct for their attentional or emotional problems using “executive processes.” In normal humans, decisions are accomplished via these executive processes, which are responsible for planning actions, or inhibiting unwise actions, as well as allowing emotions to influence cognition in the proper way. We review the current state of knowledge of the executive capacities of psychopaths. We then evaluate psychopaths in light of the three major philosophical theories of ethics, utilitarianism, deontological theory, and virtue ethics. Finally, we turn to the difficulty psychopath offenders pose to criminal law, because of the way psychopathy interacts with the various justifications and functions of punishment. We conclude with a brief consideration of the effects of psychopaths on contemporary social structures. (shrink)
The psychological literature now differentiates between two types of psychopath:successful (with little or no criminal record) and unsuccessful (with a criminal record). Recent research indicates that earlier findings of reduced autonomic activity, reduced prefrontal grey matter, and compromised executive activity may only be true of unsuccessful psychopaths. In contrast, successful psychopaths actually show autonomic and executive function that exceeds that of normals, while having no difference in prefrontal volume from normals. We argue that many successful psychopaths are legally responsible (...) for their actions, as they have the executive capacity to choose not to harm (and thus are legally rational). However, many unsuccessful psychopaths have a lack of executive function that should at least partially excuse them from criminal culpability. Although a successful psychopath's increased executive function may occur in conflict with, rather than in consonance with their increased autonomic activity - producing a cognitive style characterized by self deception and articulate-sounding, but unsound reasoning - they may be capable of recognizing and correcting their lack of autonomic data, and thus can be held responsible. (shrink)
This essay explores the boundaries of the moral community—the collection of agents eligible for moral responsibility—by focusing on those just inside it and those just outside it. In particular, it contrasts mild mental retardation with psychopathy, specifically among adults. For those who work with and know them, adults with mild mental retardation are thought to be obvious members of the moral community (albeit not full-fledged members). For those who work with and theorize about adult psychopaths, by contrast, they are not (...) members of the moral community (albeit not in such a full-fledged fashion as the insane). Both psychopaths and adults with MMR have a disability, and the essay is interested in how disability sometimes exempts one from the moral community and sometimes doesn't. It will be through two associated puzzles that we will eventually come to see the complicated tripartite relation between disability, responsibility, and moral community. (shrink)
The primary goal of this essay is to clarify the concept of psychopathy and distinguish it from other, related, concepts. We contend that the paradigmatic trait of psychopathy is a propensity to violence that is accompanied by a lack of conscience. We also argue that conceptual clarity on this point is important for devising empirical criteria for identifying psychopaths. We also argue that a full theory of psychopathy will require one to utilize theories and assumptions that pertain to central issues (...) in meta-ethics. (shrink)
Psychopathy is best regarded as a complex family of disorders. The upside is that this family can be tightly related along identifiable common dimensions. Characteristic marks of psychopaths include a lack of guilt and remorse for paradigm case immoral actions, leading to the common conception of psychopathy rooted in affective disfunctions. An adequate portrait of psychopathy is much more complicated, however. Though some neural regions and corresponding functions are commonly indicated, they range across those responsible for action planning and learning, (...) high-level processing as well as emotional processes – amygdala, insula, anterior cingulate cortex, prefrontal cortex and hippocampus amongst them. Accordingly, a complete fine-grained map of all neural mechanisms responsible for psychopathy has not been realized, and even if it were, such a map would have limited utility outside of the context of surgical or chemical intervention, The utility of this neural-level understanding of psychopathy is further limited by the fact that it is only applicable in the clinical correction of individual subjects after those subjects are positively identified as belonging to the diverse family of psychopaths. On the other hand, an information processing model of moral cognition, fully consistent with the neurology and psychology of psychopathy, provides a base for wider-ranging applications. In this chapter, relevant research is reviewed. The historical progression of moral-psychological accounts of psychopathy and antisocial personality is briefly recounted. Neural mechanisms, including the roles of hormones and brain structures are correlated. From this review, common dimensions are rendered, resulting in a simple account suitable to an information processing model of moral/immoral/amoral psychology. Then, this model is articulated. The theoretical and practical implications for such a feasible working model of psychopathic personalities are assessed. One the theoretical front, it permits the direct testing of individual, as well as a common currency for the comparative evaluation and integration of multiple, moral, psychological, and neurological theories of psychopathy. On the practical front, it permits experimental designs and simulations – both virtual and actual - seeking greater resolution on the social effects of psychopaths when they become active agents in multi-agent systems, as leaders of families, corporations, and governments. From the results of such experiments, psychopathic influences on individuals and institutions become identifiable, and cash-value for seemingly ungrounded folk-psychological attributions of psychopathic policies, laws, and organizations can be drawn. Finally, this raises the possibility of directed modification of social-environmental factors (including at the meta-organizational level) reinforcing the development of psychopathic personalities in the first place, modifications which are also open to simulation and testing. (shrink)
This short theoretical paper elucidates a plausible theory about the Global Financial Crisis and the role of senior financial corporate directors in that crisis. The paper presents a theory of the Global Financial Crisis which argues that psychopaths working in corporations and in financial corporations, in particular, have had a major part in causing the crisis. This paper is thus a very short theoretical paper but is one that may be very important to the future of capitalism because it discusses (...) significant ways in which Corporate Psychopaths may have acted recently, to the detriment of many. Further research into this theory is called for. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Psychopaths are brutal individuals, having no empathetic concern for others. Initially, the existence of psychopaths seems to be a mystery from an evolutionary point of view. On close examination, however, it can be accommodated by evolutionary theory. Brutal individuals excelled meek individuals in the desperate circumstances where they had to fight their competitors over natural resources for survival and reproduction. This evolutionary explanation of psychopaths receives support from Pinker's observation of the history of brutality. We have good reasons for predicting (...) that psychopaths are likely to die out in the future. (shrink)
Successful psychopaths, defined as individuals in the general population who nevertheless possess some degree of psychopathic traits, are receiving increasing amounts of empirical attention. To date, little is known about such individuals, specifically with regard to how they respond to ethical dilemmas in business contexts. This study investigated this relationship, proposing a mediated model in which the positive relationship between psychopathy and unethical decision-making is explained through the process of moral disengagement, defined as a cognitive orientation that facilitates unethical choice. (...) The results of the study supported this model, and implications for theory and practice are discussed. (shrink)
The recent debate over the moral responsibility of psychopaths has centered on whether, or in what sense, they understand moral requirements. In this paper, I argue that even if they do understand what morality requires, the content of their actions is not of the right kind to justify full-blown blame. I advance two independent justifications of this claim. First, I argue that if the psychopath comes to know what morality requires via a route that does not involve a proper (...) appreciation of what it means to cause another harm or distress, the content of violations of rules against harm will be of a lower grade than the content of similar actions by normal individuals. Second, I argue that in order to intend a harm to a person?that is, to intend the distinctive kind of harm that can only befall a person?it is necessary to understand what personhood is and what makes it valuable. The psychopath's deficits with regard to mental time travel ensure that s/he cannot intend this kind of harm. (shrink)
In attempting to explain or deal with negative workplace behaviours such as workplace bullying, the notion of ‘workplace psychopaths’ has recently received much attention. Focusing on individual aspects of negative workplace behaviour is at odds with more systemic approaches that recognise the contribution of individual, organisational and societal influences, without seeking to blame a person(s) for their behaviour or personality disorder. Regarding a coworker as a psychopath is highly stigmatising, and given the relatively low prevalence of psychopathy in the (...) community, is likely to be incorrect. Sources promoting the notion of workplace psychopathy provide lists of diagnostic criteria and appear to encourage the perception that it is common. This research examines how lay persons use behavioural criteria consistent with psychopathy and the label ‘psychopath’ in relation to a coworker. 307 Australian workers completed an online survey concerning their experience of workplace bullying, which also asked them to rate a coworker’s behaviour on a range of scales to assess perceptions of psychopathy. Rates of psychopathy, when using labels and behavioural criteria, were found to be much higher than scientific estimates of prevalence, for both participants who had been bullied and those who had not. A higher proportion of non-bullied participants classified a coworker as a psychopath when using the label ‘psychopath’, compared to when using behavioural criteria. The notion that there are psychopaths in every workplace should be treated with caution to ensure that the potential for ‘misdiagnosis’ and stigmatisation do not cause further harm in situations of unacceptable workplace behaviours. (shrink)
In this commentary, I respond to several criticisms of my prior article arguing that, for purposes of assigning moral responsibility, we should understand psychopaths as persons who lack the ability to treat actions as affecting relationships. I discuss the implications of different kinds of psychopaths and the corresponding levels of moral responsibility. I also briefly discuss the legal implications of a psychopath’s diminished moral responsibility.
This article reports on empirical research that establishes strong, positive, and significant correlations between the ethical issues of bullying and unfair supervision in the workplace and the presence of Corporate Psychopaths. The main measure for bullying is identified as being the witnessing of the unfavorable treatment of others at work. Unfair supervision was measured by perceptions that an employee's supervisor was unfair and showed little interest in the feelings of subordinates. This article discusses the theoretical links between psychopathy and bullying (...) and notes that little empirical evidence confirms the connection in management research. The sample of 346 Australian senior white collar workers used in the research is described as is the measure of behavior for identifying psychopaths. The findings are then presented and discussed showing that when Corporate Psychopaths are present in a work environment, the level of bullying is significantly greater than when they are not present. Further, that when Corporate Psychopaths are present, supervisors are strongly perceived as being unfair to employees and disinterested in their feelings. This article concludes that around 26% of bullying is accounted for by 1% of the employee population, those who are Corporate Psychopaths. (shrink)
This study investigated whether employee perceptions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) were associated with the presence of Corporate Psychopaths in corporations. The article states that, as psychopaths are 1% of the population, it is logical to assume that every large corporation has psychopaths working within it. To differentiate these people from the common perception of psychopaths as being criminals, they have been called "Corporate Psychopaths" in this research. The article presents quantitative empirical research into the influence of Corporate Psychopaths on (...) four perceptual measures of CSR and three further measures of organizational commitment to employees. The article explains who Corporate Psychopaths are and delineates the measures of CSR and organizational commitment to employees that were used. It then outlines the research conducted among 346 corporate employees in Australia in 2008. The reliability of the instrument used is commented on favorably in terms of its statistical reliability and its face and external validity. Results of the research are described showing the highly significant and negative influence of Corporate Psychopaths on all of the measures of CSR and of organizational commitment to employees used in the research. When Corporate Psychopaths are present in leadership positions within organizations, employees are less likely to agree with views that: the organization does business in a socially desirable manner; does business in an environmentally friendly manner and that the organization does business in a way that benefits the local community. Also, when Corporate Psychopaths are present in leadership positions within organizations, employees are significantly less likely to agree that the corporation does business in a way that shows commitment to employees, significantly less likely to feel that they receive due recognition for doing a good job, to feel that their work was appreciated and to feel that their efforts were properly rewarded. The article argues that academics and researchers in the area of CSR cannot ignore the influence of individual managers. This is particularly the case when those managers have dysfunctional personalities, or are actually psychopaths. The article further argues that the existence of Corporate Psychopaths should be of interest to those involved in corporate management and corporate governance because their presence influences the way corporations are run and how corporations affect society and the environment. (shrink)
El propósito de este artículo es describir el proceso por el cuál un individuo o grupo de individuos aplica violencia -psíquica o física- en pequeñas dosis a otro individuo con la intención de desestabilizarlo y hacerlo dudar de sus propios pensamientos y afectos. De esta forma se arrebata al otro su identidad, se niega y elimina la diferencia con el otro. El objetivo de esta conducta es paralizar a la víctima para evitar que surja el conflicto, para que no pueda (...) pensar ni comprenden, mantenerla a disposición del agresor mientras sea útil y adoctrinarla. El proceso pretende pervertir moralmente a la víctima y destruirla lentamente para conseguir un crimen perfecto, se elimina a la víctima por inducción al suicidio o violencia fisica. Llamamos a esta conducta "acoso moral" y la definimos como toda conducta abusiva -verbal o no verbal- que atenta por su frecuencia y repetición contra la dignidad o integridad psíquica o física de una persona. (shrink)
It is often claimed that the existence of psychopaths undermines moral rationalism. I examine a recent empirically based argument for this claim and conclude that rationalist accounts of moral judgement and moral reasoning are perfectly compatible with the evidence cited.
This study investigated whether employee perceptions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) were associated with the presence of Corporate Psychopaths in corporations. The article states that, as psychopaths are 1% of the population, it is logical to assume that every large corporation has psychopaths working within it. To differentiate these people from the common perception of psychopaths as being criminals, they have been called “Corporate Psychopaths” in this research. The article presents quantitative empirical research into the influence of Corporate Psychopaths on (...) four perceptual measures of CSR and three further measures of organizational commitment to employees. The article explains who Corporate Psychopaths are and delineates the measures of CSR and organizational commitment to employees that were used. It then outlines the research conducted among 346 corporate employees in Australia in 2008. The reliability of the instrument used is commented on favorably in terms of its statistical reliability and its face and external validity. Results of the research are described showing the highly significant and negative influence of Corporate Psychopaths on all of the measures of CSR and of organizational commitment to employees used in the research. When Corporate Psychopaths are present in leadership positions within organizations, employees are less likely to agree with views that: the organization does business in a socially desirable manner; does business in an environmentally friendly manner and that the organization does business in a way that benefits the local community. Also, when Corporate Psychopaths are present in leadership positions within organizations, employees are significantly less likely to agree that the corporation does business in a way that shows commitment to employees, significantly less likely to feel that they receive due recognition for doing a good job, to feel that their work was appreciated and to feel that their efforts were properly rewarded. The article argues that academics and researchers in the area of CSR cannot ignore the influence of individual managers. This is particularly the case when those managers have dysfunctional personalities, or are actually psychopaths. The article further argues that the existence of Corporate Psychopaths should be of interest to those involved in corporate management and corporate governance because their presence influences the way corporations are run and how corporations affect society and the environment. (shrink)
Psychopaths are agents who lack the normal capacity to feel moral emotions (e.g. guilt based on empathy with the victims of their actions). Evidence for attributing psychopathy at least in some cases to genetic or early childhood causes suggests that psychopaths lack free will. However, the paper defends a sense in which psychopaths still may be construed as responsible for their actions, even if their degree of responsibility is less than that of normal agents. Responsibility is understood in Strawsonian terms, (...) as a question of our appropriate reactive attitudes toward an agent for what she does, and as distinct from the question of the agent's own motivating attitudes, which lead him to do what he does. The latter is the question more directly relevant to free will, though moral motivation normally depends on the capacity in early childhood to pick up motivating attitudes from others' reactive attitudes. Reactive attitudes based on hatred rather than anger (e.g. disgust or contempt) count as alternative forms of blame that may be appropriately directed toward agents manifesting bad qualities of will, even as a matter of motivational impairment. So psychopaths may still be said to deserve blame, even if they are incapable of modifying their behavior in response to blame. (shrink)
Abstract: Many philosophers believe that people who are not capable of grasping the significance of moral considerations are not open to moral blame when they fail to respond appropriately to these considerations. I contend, however, that some morally blind, or 'psychopathic,' agents are proper targets for moral blame, at least on some occasions. I argue that moral blame is a response to the normative commitments and attitudes of a wrongdoer and that the actions of morally blind agents can express the (...) relevant blame-grounding attitudes insofar as these agents possess the capacity to make judgments about non-moral reasons. (shrink)
David Shoemaker argues from (A) psychopaths’ emotional deficiency, to (B) their insensitivity to moral reasons, to (C) their lack of criminal responsibility. This response observes three important ambiguities in this argument, involving the interpretation of (1) psychopaths’ emotional deficit, (2) their insensitivity to reasons, and (3) their moral judgements. Resolving these ambiguities presents Shoemaker with a dilemma: his argument either equivocates or it is falsified by the empirical evidence. An alternative perspective on psychopaths’ moral and criminal responsibility is proposed.
At least some serial killers are psychopathic serial killers. Psychopathic serial killers raise interesting questions about the nature of evil and moral responsibility. On the one hand, serial killers seem to be obviously evil, if anything is. On the other hand, psychopathy is a diagnosable disorder that, among other things, involves a diminished ability to understand and use basic moral distinctions. This feature of psychopathy suggests that psychopathic serial killers have at least diminished responsibility for what they do. In this (...) chapter I consider whether psychopathic serial killers might be properly said to be both evil and morally responsible for their actions. I argue that psychopathic serial killers are plausibly evil in at least one recognizable sense of the term, but that they are nevertheless not likely to be responsible for many of the evils they perpetuate. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that the responsibility-affecting defect of psychopaths is their incapacity for responding to acts within relationships. I begin with Piers Benn's account of psychopaths as incapable of forming participant reactive attitudes. Benn argues that participant reactive attitudes are essentially communicative and the ability to form and understand participant reactive attitudes is crucial to being a member of the moral community. Against Benn, I argue, though participant reactive attitudes can be communicative, they are not essentially communicative. Instead, (...) they can be simply expressive. Therefore, we must consider psychopaths members of the moral community, in Benn’s sense; however, psychopaths fail to interpret their actions as part of relationships. This inability renders punishment, as an attempt to rectify wrong relationships, inappropriate for psychopaths. Psychopaths have diminished responsibility, insofar as they have forfeited some rights by committing an offense, but are not appropriate candidates for punishment because they cannot understand its significance. (shrink)
• But this rests on the debatable view that understanding a moral reason implies being motivated to conform to it. Psychopaths do seem to have at least a “rote” or emotionally shallow understanding that their acts are wrong.
Philosophical and psychological opinion is divided over whether moral sensitivity, understood as the ability to pick out a situation's morally salient features, necessarily involves emotional engagement. This paper seeks to offer insight into this question. It reasons that if moral sensitivity does draw significantly on affective capacities of response, then moral insensitivity should be characteristic of psychopathy, a diagnostic category associated with pathologically low affectivity. The paper considers three bodies of empirical evidence on the moral functioning of psychopaths: (1) psychopathy (...) and the moral/conventional distinction; (2) psychopathy and social perspective?taking competency; and (3) psychopathy and social information processing models of aggressive behaviour. On the basis of this evidence, the conclusion is reached that psychopaths are morally sensitive in the operative sense. Thus, conceptions of moral perception that include affect in their definitions are questionable, as are educational interventions that claim to develop an affective aspect of moral functioning by improving skills in situational moral perception. (shrink)
The Perception-Action Model of empathy (PAM) is both sufficiently broad and sufficiently detailed to be able to describe and accommodate a wide range of phenomena – including the apparent “cold-heartedness” or lack of empathy of psychopaths. We show how the physiological, cognitive, and emotional elements of the PAM map onto known and hypothesized attributes of the psychopathic personality.
This paper addresses Colin Holmes's suggestion that the psychopathic disorder is best regarded not as a psychiatric concept, but as an ethical one. The paper argues that the concept of psychopathy, like many other concepts, can span both psychiatry and ethics, and that it is not clear what removing if from the realm of psychiatry would entail. Also, the question of whether the concept of psychopathy is useful for psychiatrists must be separated from the question of whether psychopaths should be (...) exonerated from the moral and legal responsibility for their actions. (shrink)
Psychopathy is characterized by pronounced emotional deficits, yet individuals with psychopathic traits generally understand the law and the likely punishments for violating it. Vitacco, Erickson, and Lishner (2013) suggest that because of this appreciation, there is no question that psychopaths are criminally responsible. We make the modest argument that increasing psychological and neurological evidence calls into question whether conventional assumptions about an offender’s culpable states of mind hold true for psychopaths. It is likely, we suggest, that a wide range of (...) deficits found in psychopaths impair their ability to calculate risks of harm and utilize information about the consequences of their behavior. (shrink)
Increasing evidence from psychology and neuroscience suggests that emotion plays an important and sometimes critical role in moral judgment and moral behavior. At the same time, there is increasing psychological and neuroscientific evidence that brain regions critical in emotional and moral capacity are impaired in psychopaths. We ask how the criminal law should accommodate these two streams of research, in light of a new normative and legal account of the criminal responsibility of psychopaths.
Individuals with psychopathy or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can behave in ways that suggest lack of empathy towards others. However, many different cognitive and affective processes may lead to unempathic behavior and the social processing profiles of individuals with high psychopathic vs. ASD traits are likely different. Whilst psychopathy appears characterized by problems with resonating with others’ emotions, ASD appears characterized by problems with cognitive perspective-taking. In addition, alexithymia has previously been associated with both disorders, but the contribution of alexithymia (...) needs further exploration. In a community sample (N=110) we show for the first time that although affective resonance and cognitive perspective-taking are related, high psychopathic traits relate to problems with resonating with others’ emotions, but not cognitive perspective taking. Conversely, high ASD traits relate to problems with cognitive perspective-taking but not resonating with others’ emotions. Alexithymia was associated with problems with affective resonance independently of psychopathic traits, suggesting that different component processes (reduced tendency to feel what others feel and reduced ability to identify and describe feelings) comprise affective resonance. Alexithymia was not associated with the reduced cognitive perspective-taking in high ASD traits. Our data suggest that (1) elevated psychopathic and ASD traits are characterized by difficulties in different social information processing domains and (2) reduced affective resonance in individuals with elevated psychopathic traits and the reduced cognitive perspective taking in individuals with elevated ASD traits are not explained by co-occurring alexithymia. (3) Alexithymia is independently associated with reduced affective resonance. Consequently, our data point to different component processes within the construct of empathy that are suggestive of partially separable cognitive and neural systems. (shrink)
Theoretical arguments that psychopathy eliminates individual responsibility for illegal behavior and can therefore serve as a basis for an insanity defense are largely premised on emotional characteristics of psychopathy that impede the individual’s capacity to appreciate right from wrong. We offer arguments and countervailing evidence indicating psychopaths do have the capacity to appreciate right from wrong and therefore should not be absolved of criminal responsibility.
Over the last 20 years, a number of central figures in moral philosophy have defended some version of moral rationalism, the idea that morality is based on reason or rationality (e.g., Gewirth 1978, Darwall 1983, Nagel 1970, 1986, Korsgaard 1986, Singer 1995; Smith 1994, 1997). According to rationalism, morality is based on reason or rationality rather than the emotions or cultural idiosyncrasies, and this has seemed to many to be the best way of securing a kind of objectivism about moral (...) claims. Consider the following representative statements. (shrink)
Psychopaths have long been of interest to moral philosophers, since a careful examination of their peculiar deficiencies may reveal what features are normally critical to the development of moral agency. What underlies the psychopath's amoralism? A common and plausible answer to this question is that the psychopath lacks empathy. Lack of empathy is also claimed to be a critical impairment in autism, yet it is not at all clear that autistic individuals share the psychopath's amoralism. How is (...) empathy characterized in the literature, and how crucial is empathy, so described, to moral understanding and agency? I argue that an examination of moral thinking in high-functioning autistic people supports a Kantian rather than a Humean account of moral agency. (shrink)
Philosophical and empirical moral psychologists claim that emotions are both necessary and sufficient for moral judgment. The aim of this paper is to assess the evidence in favor of both claims and to show how a moderate rationalist position about moral judgment can be defended nonetheless. The experimental evidence for both the necessity- and the sufficiency-thesis concerning the connection between emotional reactions and moral judgment is presented. I argue that a rationalist about moral judgment can be happy to accept the (...) necessity-thesis. My argument draws on the idea that emotions play the same role for moral judgment that perceptions play for ordinary judgments about the external world. I develop a rationalist interpretation of the sufficiency-thesis and show that it can successfully account for the available empirical evidence. The general idea is that the rationalist can accept the claim that emotional reactions are sufficient for moral judgment just in case a subject’s emotional reaction towards an action in question causes the judgment in a way that can be reflectively endorsed under conditions of full information and rationality. This idea is spelled out in some detail and it is argued that a moral agent is entitled to her endorsement if the way she arrives at her judgment reliably leads to correct moral beliefs, and that this reliability can be established if the subject’s emotional reaction picks up on the morally relevant aspects of the situation. (shrink)
I argue that emotional sensitivity (or insensitivity) has a marked negative influence on ethical perception. Diminished capacities of ethical perception, in turn, mitigate what we are morally responsible for while lack of such capacities may altogether eradicate responsibility. Impairment in ethical perception affects responsibility by affecting either recognition of or reactivity to moral reasons. It follows that emotional insensitivity (together with its attendant impairment in ethical perception) bears saliently on moral responsibility. Since one distinguishing mark of the psychopath is (...) emotional insensitivity, emotional insensitivity and the resulting impairment in moral perception either excuses the psychopath from moral culpability or moderates the degree to which he is culpable. (shrink)
Recently T. M. Scanlon and others have advanced an ostensibly comprehensive theory of moral responsibility—a theory of both being responsible and being held responsible—that best accounts for our moral practices. I argue that both aspects of the Scanlonian theory fail this test. A truly comprehensive theory must incorporate and explain three distinct conceptions of responsibility—attributability, answerability, and accountability—and the Scanlonian view conflates the first two and ignores the importance of the third. To illustrate what a truly comprehensive theory might look (...) like, I investigate what it would say about the difficult case of the psychopath. (shrink)
The paper examines the question of whether a person could know the difference between right and wrong and have the capacity to control his or her conduct yet not be moved by his or her knowledge of right or wrong. It proceeds by considering psychopathy and inquiring into the nature of the psychopath's cognitive deficits, if any. One possibility is that psychopaths are inconsistent in the sense of Kant's test of universalizability. This possibility is rejected after considerable argument. A (...) second possibility is that psychopaths are incapable of empathy. Consideration of recent work in developmental psychology leads to the conclusion that this possibility remains open. (shrink)