Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: a case study

It is far too early to say what global impact the neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric sciences will have on our intuitions about moral responsibility. And it is far too early to say whether the notion of moral responsibility will survive this impact (and if so, in what form). But it is certainly worth starting to think about the local impact that these sciences can or should have on some of our distinctions and criteria. It might be possible to use some of the tools offered by these sciences in order to refine or revise some of the categories currently used, without – for the time being at least – worrying too much about the fate of the notion of moral responsibility. This is an area where a piecemeal approach might be more productive: only after an evaluation of many distinct cases and situations it will be possible to say something general about the current notion of moral responsibility. In this article, we will focus on a single clinical case: a young man who has been convicted for assault on a neighbour and whose sentence was affected by a pre-existing diagnosis of mental illness. We will use this case, and an analysis of the similarities and differences between this case and other possible cases, in order to raise some (local but important) issues about the implications that discoveries in neuropsychology and neuropsychiatry can have for the way moral responsibility is attributed to agents and, more specifically, to agents with diagnoses of mental illnesses.
Keywords moral responsibility  mental illness  delusions
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DOI 10.1017/S0963180109990442
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