It is a commonly-held belief that ignorance excuses. But what of moral ignorance? Is a person blameless who acts from “false” moral principles? In this paper I shall try to show that such a person is blameworthy. I shall produce an argument that connects the acceptance of moral principles with character, character with moral responsibility, and moral responsibility with the justifiability of blame.
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Psychopathy, Other-Regarding Moral Beliefs, and ResponsibilityLloyd Fields (bio)AbstractIn this paper I seek to show that at least one kind of psychopath is incapable of forming other-regarding moral beliefs; hence that they cannot act for other-regarding moral reasons; and hence that they are not appropriate subjects for the assessment of either moral or legal responsibility. Various attempts to characterize psychopaths are considered and rejected, in particular the widely held view (...) that psychopaths are, in general, incapable of understanding moral concepts. The particular disability proposed here, the incapacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs, is then derived from an analysis of what is required for someone to be a responsible agent. This is illustrated with a detailed case history. A defect of this kind is shown to vitiate moral responsibility, because it renders the psychopath irresponsive to the social pressures which normally ensure respect for moral norms. It is also shown that the psychopath is not a suitable subject for the assessment of legal responsibility, because he lacks the capacity to act from common prudence to avoid sanctions. I conclude that the attempt to characterize particular defects from among the heterogeneity of psychopathic subjects, could lead to better targeted, and hence to more effective, management of particular cases.KeywordsCriminality, mental illness, personality disorder, blame, liability, moral beliefs, guilt, social moralityIntroductionThe term “psychopath” has been used with a wide variety of different meanings and, no doubt, covers a heterogeneous group of subjects (Criminal behaviour and mental health 1992). My aim in this paper is to argue that at least a subgroup of those subjects are characterized by an inability to form other-regarding moral beliefs—and hence, for this particular reason, are not morally responsible agents—and that they also lack the capacity for prudence, and hence are not legally responsible agents.I begin by distinguishing the particular sense in which I will be using the term “psychopathy.” I then consider some suggestions in the literature regarding the defect by which psychopaths might be characterized—that they are mentally ill, or incapable of understanding moral concepts. In rejecting these, I come to the suggestion that the relevant defect is an inability to form other-regarding moral beliefs, a defect which is graphically illustrated by a case report from the literature. I explore the implication of this kind of defect for [End Page 261] moral responsibility as a socially-embedded notion, and the implication of the psychopath’s inability to exercise prudence in relation to legal liability.Nothing in this paper should be taken to suggest that psychopaths are irredeemable. On the contrary, as I argue in an endnote, correctly characterizing the defect from which they suffer leads directly to forms of treatment whose effectiveness has acquired a measure of empirical support.The Nature of PsychopathyPsychopathy is not a homogeneous concept; there are different types of psychopaths. For example, Henderson identified a type of psychopath who he classified as “Predominantly Creative,” exemplified by such figures as T. E. Lawrence and Joan of Arc. In people of this type genius is associated with heightened sensitivity, psychosexual immaturity and emotional instability (Henderson 1939, 108–20; Henderson and Gillespie 1969, 317). Predominantly creative psychopaths do not come within my purview.By “psychopathy” I shall mean the specific form of personality disorder described by Cleckley in his book, The Mask of Sanity (Cleckley 1964). Cleckley’s description forms the basis of Hare’s Revised (20-item) Psychopathy Checklist. The Checklist includes the following personality traits and deviant behaviors:1. Glibness/superficial charm.2. Grandiose sense of self-worth.3. Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom.4. Pathological lying.5. Conning/manipulative.6. Lack of remorse or guilt.7. Shallow affect.8. Callous/lack of empathy.9. Parasitic lifestyle.10. Poor behavioral controls.11. Promiscuous sexual behavior.12. Early behavior problems.13. Lack of realistic, long-term plans.14. Impulsivity.15. Irresponsibility.16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.17. Many short-term marital relationships.18. Juvenile delinquency.19. Revocation of conditional release.20. Criminal versatility (Hare 1986, 18). 1This conceptualization resembles in many respects the category of Antisocial Personality Disorder as described in the American Psychiatric... (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:161 HUME ON RESPONSIBILITY For Hume, to hold a person morally responsible for an action is morally to approve of him or to blame him in virtue of the action. Moreover, as he says in the Treatise of Human Nature, "approbation or blame... is nothing but a fainter and more imperceptible love or hatred." How must an action be related to a person in order for the person to (...) be held morally responsible for the action? Since to hold a person morally responsible for an action is morally to approve of him or to blame him in virtue of the action, and since moral approval or blame is nothing but a fainter and more imperceptible love or hatred, the first stage in answering this question is to attempt to answer the following more general question: How must an action be related to a person in order for the person to be loved or hated because of the action? This question, in turn, requires one to consider some of the main features of Hume's account of the passions of love and hatred. One main feature of Hume's account of these passions is that he distinguishes between the object of love and hatred and their causes. Hume says: As the immediate object of pride and humility is self or that identical person, of whose thoughts, actions, and sensations we are intimately conscious; so the object of love and hatred is some other person, of whose thoughts, actions, and sensations we are not conscious (T 329). Though the object of love and hatred be some person other than one-self, the object is not, strictly speaking, the cause, that is, the sole and 162 sufficient cause. For if the other person were the cause, then he would cause both passions in oneself; and since love and hatred nullify one another, neither could ever exist. The causes of love and hatred are complex and diversified. The ingredients of such causes are as follows: First, there are certain general qualities or circumstances. These may be subdivided as follows: (a) mental qualities: qualities of a person such as virtue, knowledge, wit, tend to produce love; those such as vice, ignorance, dullness, tend to produce hatred; (b) bodily features: beauty, strength, swiftness are conducive to love; their opposites, to hatred; (c) external advantages and disadvantages, such as family position, possessions, clothing, etc., can contribute to the production of love or hatred. But, secondly, these qualities or circumstances, considered in abstraction, cannot cause love or hatred. They must be related to the person who is the object of love or hatred. For example, knowing of a beautiful palace cannot lead one to esteem a particular prince unless the palace is related to him by, for instance, being his property. Thirdly, in order for mental qualities, bodily features, or external advantages or disadvantages to produce love or hatred, they must not only be related to the object of these passions; they must also induce pleasure or displeasure. Without pleasure or displeasure, neither love nor hatred could arise. How, then, do actions figure in the causation of love or hatred? An action can cause pleasure or pain. But, for Hume, an action's production of pleasure or pain is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the production of love or hatred towards the person whose action it is. In addition, 163 the action must be related to the person. But an action is of relatively short duration. Thus, Hume argues: 'Tis not enough, that the action arise from the person, and have him for its immediate cause and author. This relation alone is too feeble and inconstant to be a foundation for these passions. It reaches not the sensible and thinking part, and neither proceeds from any thing durable in him, nor leaves any thing behind it; but passes in a moment, and as if it had never been. On the other hand, an intention shews certain qualities, which, remaining after the action is perform'd, connect it with the person, and facilitate the transition of ideas from one to the other (T 349). Now, as we have seen, Hume holds that 'approbation or blame... is... (shrink)
Some interpretations of the term “coercion” entail that a person who is coerced is morally entitled to do what she does. But there is a vague spectrum of uses of this term, in which one use shades into another. “Coercion” can legitimately be interpreted in a way according to which it is possible for a person who is coerced not to be morally entitled to do what she does and indeed to be blameworthy for her action. In order to distinguish (...) between cases in which a coercee is not blameworthy for compliance and those in which a coercee is blameworthy, an account of moral blameworthiness is presented. The account does not deal, however, with the question of when one harm or evil outweighs another. A person is morally blameworthy if and only if she performs an action which is, on balance, morally wrong, and for which she is morally responsible. Three different standards of moral responsibility are considered. The first two are found to be susceptible to counterexamples. The third, which is claimed to be adequate, is that a moral agent is responsible for a morally wrong action if and only if, first, either she has the psychological capacity to refrain from doing what she does, or, if she lacks this capacity, she nevertheless had a Isecond-order) psychological capacity to prevent the lack of capacity in question; and, second, the moral agent knows what she is doing, under the description of her action according to which it is a wrong action. Thus, where a moral agent is coerced into doing an immoral action, and lacked the psychological capacity to refrain from performing the action, this standard of responsibility enables us to decide whether or not she is blameworthy on the basis of whether the lack of the capacity was due to ordinary human weakness or to a fault of character. (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Commentary on “Sanity and Irresponsibility”Lloyd Fields (bio)AbstractI make two criticisms of Wilson’s proposal to dispense with a loaded axiological criterion of sanity. First, Edwards’s axiological criterion of sanity, which Wilson accepts, involves the requirement of impartiality, which at least excludes some standards of right and wrong. Second, value pluralism applies only to morally acceptable forms of life and thus presupposes a standard of right and wrong. I conclude by (...) noting that mental illnesses are not sufficiently characterised by extreme and persistent deviance from practical rationality, as conceived by Edwards and Wilson.KeywordsSanity, responsibility, mental illness, value pluralismWilson’s paper is set in an important tradition of which Susan Wolf is a notable exemplar. He tackles the crucially important issue of how practical rationality is related to mental health and of how certain forms of irrationality are connected with mental illness. This issue must be taken into account in order to avoid infecting the criteria of sanity with “idiosyncratic or culturally biased norms.” Like Wolf (1989, 137–151), Wilson holds that sanity is a necessary condition of responsibility. But Wilson rejects the second of Wolf’s two criteria of sanity on the grounds that it invokes a definite normative theory of right and wrong. He proposes instead that whether an agent is sane should be decided on the basis of whether s/he displays practical rationality, as defined by Edwards’s list of seven items. Following Edwards, Wilson implicitly equates “sanity” with “mental health” and “insanity” with “mental illness.” By rejecting an axiological criterion of sanity that depends on a normative theory of right and wrong, Wilson is able to ensure that individuals like JoJo are not judged to be insane and hence not morally responsible for their actions. Wilson is right to stress the importance of our not applying notions such as “mental illness” or “insanity” too widely, especially in such a way as to allow blameworthy persons to escape blame and punishment.But are Wilson’s own criteria of sanity free from dependence on a normative theory, or a normative standard, of right and wrong? First, let us note that Wilson states Edwards’s seventh condition of practical rationality as follows: “holding values that are or would be adopted under the conditions of (negative) freedom.” Edwards’s own formulation of this condition is the following: “having values which have been (or would be) adopted under conditions of freedom, enlightenment and impartiality” (1982, 315). Wilson explains “freedom” as the absence of coercion. It is uncertain what “enlightenment” means in this context. Impartiality would seem to include being impartial between oneself and others and between one’s own tribe, nation or race and that of others. Although this requirement is perhaps too general to be regarded as a sufficient standard [End Page 303] of right and wrong, it is at least part of such normative theories as utilitarianism and Kant’s moral theory, while it is inconsistent with ethical egoism, i.e., the view that an action is right or wrong depending on whether it serves or frustrates the agent’s overall best interests. One could dispute Wilson’s claim, therefore, that Edwards’s seventh item is not a “loaded” axiological criterion.Second, Wilson maintains that we can avoid assuming a loaded axiological criterion for sanity by adopting the position of value pluralism. Wolf’s axiological criterion for sanity is that the agent should be capable of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Wilson holds that this criterion, as presented, invokes a normative theory of right and wrong. The criterion would not do so if it were applied in accordance with value pluralism, which, Wilson says, “rejects the notion that there is one monolithic theory of right and wrong without denying that an actor may behave virtuously or viciously.” Wilson appears to assume that an “unloaded” version of Wolf’s axiological criterion would be more or less equivalent to Edwards’s seventh condition of practical rationality.Value pluralism maintains that there are incompatible forms of life that display distinct virtues. “Whichever form of life one is pursuing there are virtues which elude one because they are available only to people pursuing alternative and... (shrink)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Response to the CommentariesLloyd FieldsAbstractIn this response, I address three points raised in the commentaries: the question of whether there is a legitimate formal use of “moral,” the claim that a certain sort of affective capacity is required for acquiring the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs, and the problem of how to show that psychopaths lack the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs. I maintain that there is (...) a use of “moral” according to which moral beliefs need not be rational. Regarding the affective capacity that Adshead identifies, I explain that I had not intended that such a capacity be constitutive of a moral belief, even an other-regarding one. I then try a new approach, in the light of Adshead’s commentary, to the third point addressed, according to which the psychopath is unable to form other-regarding moral beliefs because a causally necessary condition for doing so is absent in him.KeywordsMoral beliefs, moral understanding, personality disorder, empathy, incapacity, responsibilityThe criticisms offered in the three excellent commentaries on my paper raise deep and important issues. I agree with many of the points made and will respond to three key issues: (1) the question of whether there is a legitimate formal use of “moral”; (2) the claim that there is a certain sort of affective capacity that is required in order to form other-regarding moral beliefs; (3) the problem of how to show that psychopaths lack the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs.I concede that Duff establishes (Duff 1977) that the psychopath lacks moral understanding in Duff’s own content-based sense of “moral.” It is illuminating, however, to emphasize that in my formal sense a psychopath of the kind that I consider in my paper is capable of some degree of understanding of “moral” concepts. Unlike Duff, I do not build rationality into my account of moral principles. Hence, I can accommodate eccentric, irrational or even “crazy” moral beliefs like that of Duff’s split-infinitive fanatic. A person can have irrational factual beliefs; why not irrational moral beliefs?Adshead in her commentary attributes to me the claim that moral beliefs, including other-regarding beliefs, “result” in a disposition to experience certain emotions, and to have certain attitudes in certain situations. She then writes, “it is arguable that the disposition to experience certain emotions and have certain attitudes towards others could be critical to acquiring the capacity to have other-regarding beliefs.” There is only an apparent disagreement here. First, I intended to claim that a disposition to experience certain emotions, etc., is partly constitutive of having a moral belief, not a result of having one. Second, in specifying my third condition of having a moral belief, I had in mind such attitudes and emotions as approval, disapproval, indignation and remorse. Adshead identifies an affective capacity, aspects of which are the recognition of, empathy with, and sympathy with, another’s distress. This capacity seems to correspond more or less to what Rousseau described as “natural compassion” (Rousseau [End Page 291] 1973, 66–69), which arises prior to reflection and the use of reason, and which is exemplified by a mother’s responsiveness to the distress of her child. Rousseau distinguished natural compassion from moral virtues, which require the use of reason. I agree with Adshead that having this affective capacity is likely to be critical to acquiring the capacity to have other-regarding moral beliefs.Radden’s incisive commentary poses the problem of how to show that the psychopath lacks the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs, since this does not follow from the fact that he fails to form them. In the light of Adshead’s commentary, I should like to try a different approach to this problem. At least one type of situation in which we say that something, x, cannot do a certain sort of thing, d, is one where a causally necessary condition for x doing d is absent. For example, we should say of a car, not simply that it does not run, but that, as it is presently constituted, it cannot run, if we found that the carburetor of its... (shrink)