About this topic

Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by antisocial behaviour, lack of remorse and empathy, and a constellation of symptoms that are suggestive of decision-making impairments. This condition raises several philosophical issues. Besides scientists, philosophers, working within philosophy of psychiatry, investigate the scientific validity and mental illness status of psychopathy. In moral psychology, it is debated whether psychopaths offer a counter-example to motivational internalism and if their case can be used to support sentimentalism about moral judgment and motivation as opposed to rationalism. There are philosophical debates concerning the moral responsibility and the legal responsibility of psychopathic offenders. In applied ethics, there is a discussion on the possibility and legitimacy of forms of biological moral enhancement of psychopaths.

Key works

A fundamental text for the contemporary conceptualisation of psychopathy is Hare 2003. Scepticism about the category of psychopathy is advanced in Mullen 2007. An empirically informed philosophical discussion of the mental illness status of psychopathy is in Nadelhoffer & Sinnott-Armstrong 2013. Levy 2014 offers a recent and influential argument for the conclusion that psychopaths are not morally responsible, Greenspan 2003 argues for the opposite conclusion. For the conclusion that psychopaths are not legally responsible, see Morse 2008, see Maibom 2008 for the opposite conclusion. Within metaethics, Nichols 2002 argues that the psychopathic disorder offers evidence for a sentimentalist interpretation of moral judgment. Maibom 2005, instead, maintain that psychopaths suffer from morally relevant rational deficits. For a discussion of motivational internalism in relation to psychopathy, see Sinnott-Armstrong 2014. Two opposing views on the possibility of biological moral enhancement of psychopaths are offered in Maibom 2014 and Glannon 2014.


Blair et al 2005 and Patrick 2006 are introductory texts on the scientific research on psychopathy. For an overview of meta-ethical debate, see Maibom 2013. The legal and moral responsibility of psychopaths are dealt with, respectively, in the collection Malatesti & McMillan 2010 and in the companion Kiehl & Sinnott-Armstrong 2013.

Related categories

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Material to categorize
  1. A New Understanding of Psychopathy: The Contribution of Phenomenological Psychopathology.Jérôme Englebert - unknown
    The objective of this study is to present a theoretical paper about a clinical issue. Our aim is to propose some clinical and semiological considerations for a psychopathological conception of psychopathy. We will discuss several major theoretical works dedicated to this nosographic entity. We will also examine a significant issue raised by Cooke et al., namely whether psychopathic functioning is consistently related to antisocial behavior. This theoretical essay is informed by clinical situations. The method applied a phenomenological psychopathology analysis to (...)
  2. Outcome Uncertainty and Brain Activity Aberrance in the Insula and Anterior Cingulate Cortex Are Associated with Dysfunctional Impulsivity in Borderline Personality Disorder.Jørgen Assar Mortensen, Hallvard Røe Evensmoen, Gunilla Klensmeden & Asta Kristine Håberg - 2016 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 10.
  3. Hemodynamic Response Alteration As a Function of Task Complexity and Expertise—An fNIRS Study in Jugglers.Daniel Carius, Christian Andrä, Martina Clauß, Patrick Ragert, Michael Bunk & Jan Mehnert - 2016 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 10.
  4. The Effects of Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Acute Aerobic Exercise on Executive Functioning and EEG Entropy in Adolescents.Michael J. Hogan, Denis O’Hora, Markus Kiefer, Sabine Kubesch, Liam Kilmartin, Peter Collins & Julia Dimitrova - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  5. Color Harmony Represented by Activity in the Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex and Amygdala.Takashi Ikeda, Daisuke Matsuyoshi, Nobukatsu Sawamoto, Hidenao Fukuyama & Naoyuki Osaka - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  6. Impaired Rapid Error Monitoring but Intact Error Signaling Following Rostral Anterior Cingulate Cortex Lesions in Humans.Martin E. Maier, Francesco Di Gregorio, Teresa Muricchio & Giuseppe Di Pellegrino - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  7. Using Brain Potentials to Understand Prism Adaptation: The Error-Related Negativity and the P300.Stephane J. MacLean, Cameron D. Hassall, Yoko Ishigami, Olav E. Krigolson & Gail A. Eskes - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  8. Reward Motivation Enhances Coding of Task-Set Information in Frontoparietal Cortex.Etzel Joset & Braver Todd - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  9. Children's Performance on the Sustained Attention to Response Task: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Age-Related Changes.Lewis Frances, Reeve Robert & Johnson Katherine - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  10. Hypoactive Error-Related Activity Associated with Failure to Learn From Errors in Substance Dependent Individuals.Upton Daniel, O'Connor David, Charles-Walsh Kathleen, Rossiter Sarah, Moore Jennifer & Hester Robert - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  11. Amygdala Responses to Unpleasant Pictures Are Influenced by Task Demands and Positive Affect Trait.Tiago A. Sanchez, Izabela Mocaiber, Fatima S. Erthal, Mateus Joffily, Eliane Volchan, Mirtes G. Pereira, Draulio B. de Araujo & Leticia Oliveira - 2015 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 9.
  12. BDNF Mediates Improvements in Executive Function Following a 1-Year Exercise Intervention.Regina L. Leckie, Lauren E. Oberlin, Michelle W. Voss, Ruchika S. Prakash, Amanda Szabo-Reed, Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Siobhan M. Phillips, Neha P. Gothe, Emily Mailey, Victoria J. Vieira-Potter, Stephen A. Martin, Brandt D. Pence, Mingkuan Lin, Raja Parasuraman, Pamela M. Greenwood, Karl J. Fryxell, Jeffrey A. Woods, Edward McAuley, Arthur F. Kramer & Kirk I. Erickson - 2014 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8.
  13. Beginning to Binge Drink: Its Effect on Behavioural Inhibition in Adolescents and Young Adults.Dalton Katie, Smith Janette, Rushby Jacqueline & Joseph Meryem - 2014 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8.
  14. Predictive Validity of the N2 and P3 ERP Components to Executive Functioning in Children: A Latent-Variable Analysis.Christopher R. Brydges, Allison M. Fox, Corinne L. Reid & Mike Anderson - 2014 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8.
  15. Emotional Modulation of the Attentional Blink and the Relation to Interpersonal Reactivity.Philipp Kanske, Sandra Schönfelder & Michèle Wessa - 2013 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7.
  16. Training Approach-Avoidance of Smiling Faces Affects Emotional Vulnerability in Socially Anxious Individuals.Mike Rinck, Sibel Telli, Isabel L. Kampmann, Marcella L. Woud, Merel Kerstholt, Sarai te Velthuis, Matthias Wittkowski & Eni S. Becker - 2013 - Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7.
  17. The Neural Basis of Human Error Processing: Reinforcement Learning, Dopamine, and the Error-Related Negativity.Clay B. Holroyd & Michael G. H. Coles - 2002 - Psychological Review 109 (4):679-709.
  18. Adolescence-Limited and Life-Course-Persistent Antisocial Behavior: A Developmental Taxonomy.Terrie E. Moffitt - 1993 - Psychological Review 100 (4):674-701.
  19. Recenzja Z: Thomas Schramme (Red.), 2014, Being Amoral: Psychopathy and Moral Incapacity, Cambridge, MA.: The MIT Press, Ss. 344.Edoardo Martinelli - 2015 - Zagadnienia Naukoznawstwa 51 (204).
  20. Introduction.Thomas Schramme - 2015 - In New Perspectives on Paternalism and Health Care. Springer Verlag.
    This chapter introduces the main findings of the medical research on psychopathy as well as the most significant threads of the philosophical debates surrounding psychopathy. It also introduces the articles collected in this volume. The introduction focuses on issues in moral psychology and metaethics, such as moral motivation, moral responsibility, and moral understanding. It shows the difficulty in conceptualising psychopathy and in using psychopathy as a test case for philosophical theories.
  21. Rebel Without a Cause: The Hypnoanalysis of a Criminal Psychopath.Robert M. Lindner, L. Radzinowicz, J. W. C. Turner & David Abrahamsen - 1946 - Science and Society 10 (3):325-331.
  22. More Than its Own Reward.Bj Crigger - 1992 - Hastings Center Report 22 (4):4-4.
  23. Genetics of Criminal and Antisocial Behaviour.Calum MacKellar - 1996 - Human Reproduction and Genetic Ethics 2 (2):47-47.
  24. Emotion, Decision Making, and the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex.Measuring Decision Making - 2002 - In Donald T. Stuss & Robert T. Knight (eds.), Principles of Frontal Lobe Function. Oxford University Press.
  25. Treating High-Risk Mentally Disordered Offenders: The Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder Initiative.Val Hawes - 2009 - In Annie Bartlett & Gillian McGauley (eds.), Forensic Mental Health: Concepts, Systems, and Practice. Oxford University Press. pp. 215.
  26. The Prospect of a President Incarcerated.Scott W. Howe - 1997 - Nexus 2:86-97.
  27. Implications for Clinical Behavior Modification.Edward J. Murray - 1978 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1 (1):70.
  28. Educational Expansion, Economic Growth and Antisocial Behaviour: Evidence From England.Ricardo Sabates - 2010 - Educational Studies 36 (2):165-173.
    This paper investigates the impact of the increase in post‐compulsory schooling and economic growth on conviction rates for antisocial behaviour in England. I hypothesise that both educational and employment opportunities should lead to greater reductions in antisocial behaviour when they are combined than when they exist in isolation. I test this hypothesis empirically using three unique sources of area‐level data over time in England. Results show that expansion of post‐compulsory education is important for reductions in antisocial behaviour regardless of the (...)
  29. The Antisocial Urbanism of Le Corbusier.Simon Richards - 2007 - Common Knowledge 13 (1):50-66.
  30. Neuromuscular Adaptations During Perturbations in Individuals with and Without Bilateral Vestibular Loss.Nora Havlik Riley - unknown
    Approximately 20% of the general population is affected by a vestibular disorder. Vestibular dysfunction is recognized as an important intrinsic factor leading to falls. Despite research on balance strategies with platform perturbations, limited information exists on neuromuscular performance of the knee with perturbations during functional tasks. Improved understanding of the effects of BVL on neuromuscular control of the knee will aid researchers and clinicians in developing rehabilitation programs that address the adaptations and balance deficits that occur with vestibular loss. Hence, (...)
  31. Nonoutcome Trial Behavior: A Predictory of Solution Shift Performance and the Effects of Overtraining.Barry Lowenkron - 1969 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 81 (3):484.
  32. Right-Response Preference in Probability Learning and Reversal.Marilyn E. Miller - 1966 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 71 (5):776.
  33. Effects of Consummatory Response Punishment in Spatial-Discrimination Learning and Response Fixation.Charles H. Koski & Leonard E. Ross - 1965 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 70 (4):360.
  34. Reversal Performance by Rats Following Overlearning with and Without Irrelevant Stimuli.Keith N. Clayton - 1963 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 66 (3):255.
  35. Supplementary Report: Monetary Incentive and Motivation in Discrimination Learning--Sex Differences.Betsy Worth Estes, Louise Brightwell Miller & Mary Ellen Curtin - 1962 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 63 (3):320.
  36. Discrimination of the Reward in Learning with Partial and Continuous Reinforcement.Stewart H. Hulse - 1962 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 64 (3):227.
  37. Generalized Extinction and Secondary Reinforcement in Visual Discrimination Learning with Delayed Reward.G. Robert Grice & Herbert M. Goldman - 1955 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 50 (3):197.
  38. The Effects of Differential Rewards on Discrimination Reversal Learning by Monkeys.Donald R. Meyer - 1951 - Journal of Experimental Psychology 41 (4):268.
  39. Sociopathy or Hyper-Masculinity?Anne Campbell - 1995 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18 (3):548-549.
    Definitional slippage threatens to equate secondary sociopathy with mere criminality and leaves the status of noncriminal sociopaths ambiguous. Primary sociopathy appears to show more environmental contingency than would be implied by a strong genetic trait approach. A reinterpretation in terms of hypermasculinity and hypofemininity is compatible with the data.
  40. “Just So” Stories and Sociopathy.Andrew Futterman & Garland E. Allen - 1995 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18 (3):557-558.
    Sociobiological explanation requires both a reliable and a valid definition of the sociopathy phenotype. Mealey assumes that such reliable and valid definition of sociopathy exists in her A review of psychiatric literature on the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder clearly demonstrates that this assumption is faulty. There is substantial disagreement among diagnostic systems (e.g., RDC, DSM-III) over what constitutes the antisocial phenotype, different systems identify different individuals as sociopathic. Without a valid definition of sociopathy, sociobiological theories like Mealey's should be (...)
  41. Genetic Issues in “the Sociobiology of Sociopathy”.Stephen C. Maxson - 1995 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 18 (3):565-565.
    A consideration of the genetics of sociopathy suggests the following. The author's Evolutionary Stable Strategy (ESS) types 2 to 4 are more likely than types 1 and 5 in crimes of violence, and there may not be an ESS for crimes of property or for sociopathy. Correlations between sociopathy and crimes of property are also more likely due to environmental than to genetic variants, and correlations between sociopathy and crimes of property are due more to environmental than genetic variants.
  42. Gambling: Some Afterthoughts.Lisa H. Newton - 2003 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 17 (1):29-31.
    This article responds to the preceding papers by Fletcher and Pasternack. Accepting Fletcher’s virtue-based approach as a useful starting point, it suggests the need for more careful philosophical work on the morality of gambling.
  43. Intoxication and Culpability.Douglas Husak - 2012 - Criminal Law and Philosophy 6 (3):363-379.
    I tackle the difficult problem of specifying how voluntary intoxication affects criminal culpability generally and recklessness in particular. I contend that the problem need not be conceptualized as an instance of actio libera in causa, namely the situation in which persons do something at t1 to culpably create the conditions of their own defense at t2. Instead, I argue that we need only consider intoxicated defendants at t2 in order to justify their punishment. In the course of defending my view, (...)
  44. Gambling and Character.David B. Fletcher - 2003 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 17 (1):1-15.
    Legalized gambling has all the hallmarks of a large-scale moral and social concern, yet, remarkably, philosophers have paid scarce attention to the moral issues surrounding this phenomenon. I believe that this neglect is unjustified. While much could be said about gambling in terms of its social impact, I offer an account on the moral status of gambling and avoid the temptation to give a “thin” account in simply categorizing gambling as “permissible” or “impermissible.” I attempt to assess its impact on (...)
  45. Gambling Maxims and Their Universalizability.Lawrence Pasternack - 2003 - International Journal of Applied Philosophy 17 (1):17-28.
    This paper explores the moral status of various gambling maxims, particularly as they relate to the bettor’s interest in profit and the mathematical expectation of the game being played. Certain difficulties with the prevailing interpretations of the Formula of Universalizability will also be discussed, particularly in relation to games for which the bettor can have a positive expectation.
  46. Individual Differences in Amygdala and Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Activity Are Associated with Evaluation Speed and Psychological Well-Being.Corrina J. Frye, Hillary S. Schaefer & Andrew L. Alexander - unknown
    & Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined whether individual differences in amygdala activation in response to negative relative to neutral information are related to differences in the speed with which such information is evaluated, the extent to which such differences are associated with medial prefrontal cortex function, and their relationship with measures of trait anxiety and psychological well-being (PWB). Results indicated that faster judgments of negative relative to neutral information were associated with increased left and right amygdala activation. In (...)
  47. Some Problems Related to Corrections of Error in the Scholarly Literature.Gordon F. Moran - 2009 - Journal of Information Ethics 18 (1):21-24.
  48. Using Forum Theatre in Organised Youth Soccer to Positively Influence Antisocial and Prosocial Behaviour: A Pilot Study.Esther A. Rutten, Gert J. J. Biesta, Maja Deković, Geert Jan J. M. Stams, Carlo Schuengel & Paul Verweel - 2010 - Journal of Moral Education 39 (1):65-78.
    The aim of this pilot study was to examine the possible effects of a forum theatre intervention on moral team atmosphere, moral reasoning, fair play attitude and on- and off-field antisocial and prosocial behaviour in male adolescent soccer players from 10 to 18 years of age . From pre-test to post-test, small but positive changes were found in moral atmosphere, but not in moral reasoning or fair play attitude. Changes were also found in on-field antisocial behaviour, which showed a significant (...)
  49. Reasons and Selves: Two Accounts of Responsibility in Theory and Practice.Will Cartwright - 2006 - Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 13 (2):143-155.
    This paper advances further three of the matters dealt with in “Reasons and Selves: Two Accounts of Responsibility in Theory and Practice” (Cartwright 2006). It discusses the two theories of responsibility at the center of “Reasons and Selves” in the light of remarks made by the two commentators. It takes the sort of person who provided the practical example in “Reasons and Selves,” namely the delinquent with a disastrous background, and assembles a variety of possible ways of thinking about the (...)
  50. Normative Judgments, Responsibility and Executive Function.Gregory Loeben & James D. Stoehr - 2007 - American Journal of Bioethics 7 (1):27 – 29.
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