Are disorders sufficient for reduced responsibility?

Neuroethics 3 (2):151-160 (2009)
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Abstract

Reimer ( Neuroethics 2008 ) believes that how we use language to characterize psychopathy may affect our judgments of moral responsibility. If we say a psychopath has a disorder we may reduce their responsibility for moral failure. If we say a psychopath is merely different, we may not reduce their responsibility. Vincent ( Neuroethics 2008 ) argues that if this were the case, a diagnosis of disorder would be both necessary and sufficient to reduce the responsibility of some agent for moral failure. Vincent presents two examples to suggest that a disorder is neither necessary nor sufficient to exculpate an individual for moral failure: childhood and hypomania. Vincent suggests instead that our judgments of moral responsibility ought to be based on the individual’s capacity for moral agency. I will side with Vincent in this debate, but argue that the example she uses, hypomania, does not work. I will argue that a diagnosis of hypomania, part of Bipolar II Disorder, is sufficient to exculpate an individual for some moral failure. This is because there are responsibility-relevant capacities missing: the capacities for self-awareness and to control ones abilities. Without these capacities, the individual is not a responsible moral agent. Vincent will need to provide an alternative example to show that the presence of a disorder is not sufficient to exculpate an individual for moral failure. Whilst our use of language is important, that use reflects our judgments of the individual’s capacities for moral agency. Responsibilities are determined not only by capacities, but by the right kind of capacities, and this should be reflected in our moral judgments, and our use of language.

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Andrew John Turner
University of Adelaide (PhD)

References found in this work

Moral Luck.B. A. O. Williams & T. Nagel - 1976 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 50 (1):115-152.
Truth and meaning.Donald Davidson - 1967 - Synthese 17 (1):304-323.
Moral Luck.B. A. O. Williams & T. Nagel - 1976 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 50:115 - 151.
Truth and meaning.Donald Davidson - 1967 - Synthese 17 (1):304-323.
Moral Luck.Thomas Nagel - 1993 - In Daniel Statman (ed.), Moral Luck. State University of New York Press. pp. 141--166.

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