Freedom, resentment, and the psychopath

Piers Benn
Heythrop College
This paper discusses the moral responsibility of psychopaths for their anti-social actions. Starting from P. F. Strawson's discussion of our participant reactive attitudes, which stresses their indispensability for meaningful human relations, the paper contrasts a variety of "normal" wrongdoers with psychopaths. It suggests that the latter are often seriously deficient in their capacity to entertain these attitudes, and that their resulting lack of proper self-evaluation may explain both their callousness and their imprudence. It is then argued that only creatures able to entertain participant reactive attitudes can be proper objects of those attitudes, since these reactions have a communicative core whose expression has a point only in a shared moral world. For this reason, if psychopaths are incapable of moral understanding, they may not be proper targets of anger and resentment. This, however, may have an illiberal implication, in possibly excluding psychopaths from possessing certain rights.
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