In their paper “Is psychopathy a mental disease?”, Thomas Nadelhoffer and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong argue that according to any plausible account of mental disorder, neural and psychological abnormalities correlated with psychopathy should be regarded as signs of a mental disorder. I oppose this conclusion by arguing that at least on a naturalistically grounded account, such as Wakefield’s ‘Harmful Dysfunction’ view, currently available empirical data and evolutionary considerations indicate that psychopathy is not a mental disorder.
In a recent study, we found a negative association between psychopathy and violence against genetic relatives. We interpreted this result as a form of nepotism and argued that it failed to support the hypothesis that psychopathy is a mental disorder, suggesting instead that it supports the hypothesis that psychopathy is an evolved life history strategy. This interpretation and subsequent arguments have been challenged in a number of ways. Here, we identify several misunderstandings regarding the harmful dysfunction definition (...) of mental disorder as it applies to psychopathy and regarding the meaning of nepotism. Furthermore, we examine the evidence provided by our critics that psychopathy is associated with other disorders, and we offer a comment on their alternative model of psychopathy. We conclude that there remains little evidence that psychopathy is the product of dysfunctional mechanisms. (shrink)
This article considers whether psychopaths should be held criminally responsible. After describing the positive law of criminal responsibility in general and as it applies to psychopaths, it suggests that psychopaths lack moral rationality and that severe psychopaths should be excused from crimes that violate the moral rights of others. Alternative forms of social control for dangerous psychopaths, such as involuntary civil commitment, are considered, and the potential legal implications of future scientific understanding of psychopathy are addressed.
Psychopathy is often characterized in terms of what I call “the language of disorder.” I question whether such language is necessary for an accurate and precise characterization of psychopathy, and I consider the practical implications of how we characterize psychopathy—whether as a biological, or merely normative, disorder.
In popular culture psychopaths are inaccurately portrayed as serial killers or homicidal maniacs. Most real-world psychopaths are neither killers nor maniacs. Psychologists currently understand psychopathy as an affective disorder that leads to repeated criminal and antisocial behavior. Counter to this prevailing view, I claim that psychopathy is not necessarily linked with criminal behavior. Successful psychopaths, an intriguing new category of psychopathic agent, support this conception of psychopathy. I then consider reactive attitude theories of moral responsibility. Within this (...) tradition, psychopaths are thought to be blameless as a result of their pronounced affective deficits. Psychopaths are considered morally blind because they lack the moral emotions that make us sensitive to moral reasons. I argue that, even if they are morally blind, psychopaths remain open to forms of blame stemming from non-moral reactive attitudes. These reactive attitudes remain appropriate because psychopaths can express hateful, disgusting, or contemptible non-moral values in their judgments. (shrink)
Whether psychopathy is a mental disease or illness can affect whether psychiatrists should treat it and whether it could serve as the basis for an insanity defense in criminal trials. Our understanding of psychopathy has been greatly improved in recent years by new research in psychology and neuroscience. This illuminating research enables us to argue that psychopathy counts as a mental disease on any plausible account of mental disease. In particular, Szasz's and Pickard's eliminativist views and Sedgwick's (...) social constructivist account of mental illness that might exclude psychopathy are not plausible, and there is no reason to exclude psychopathy under Boorse's and Scadding's biomedical accounts, Wakefield's harmful dysfunction account, and the DSM-IV-TR objective harm account of mental disease. The basic reason is that psychopathy involve neural dysfunction that increases risk of serious harm and loss to people with psychopathy. (shrink)
Philosophers and psychologists often claim that moral agency is connected with the ability to feel, understand, and deploy moral emotions. In this chapter, I investigate the nature of these emotions and their connection with moral agency. First, I examine the degree to which these emotional capacities are innate and/or ‘basic’ in a philosophically important sense. I examine three senses in which an emotion might be basic: developmental, compositional, and phylogenetic. After considering the evidence for basic emotion, I conclude that emotions (...) are not basic in a philosophically important sense. Emotions, I argue, are best understood as socially constructed concepts. I then investigate whether these emotions are necessary for moral agency. In order to do this I examine the philosophical and psychological literature on psychopathy and autism (two conditions defined in terms of empathic and emotional deficits). Persons with psychopathy appear incapable of distinguishing moral from non-moral norms. Additionally, while persons with autism often struggle to develop their empathic capacities, they are capable of understanding and deploying moral emotions like guilt and shame. I conclude that, in line with the conceptual act theories of emotion, that only contagion-based empathy is necessary for the acquisition of moral concepts. (shrink)
Neil Levy argues that the degree to which psychopaths ought to be held blameworthy for their actions depends on the extent to which they are capable of mental time travel—episodic memory and episodic foresight. Levy claims that deficits in mental time travel prevent psychopaths from fully appreciating what it is to be a person, and, without this understanding, we can at best hold psychopaths blameworthy for harming non-persons. In this paper, I build upon and clarify various aspects of Levy’s view. (...) Specifically, I begin by outlining the neurobiological data on mental time travel, and I argue that psychopaths, or at least some psychopaths, appear to have the deficits Levy ascribes to them. I then expand upon the legal implications of his argument by using an analogy between juveniles and psychopaths to argue that the penological justification for retributive punishment against psychopaths ought to be substantially diminished. (shrink)
In this paper, I attempt to show that the moral/conventional distinction simply cannot bear the sort of weight many theorists have placed on it for determining the moral and criminal responsibility of psychopaths. After revealing the fractured nature of the distinction, I go on to suggest how one aspect of it may remain relevant—in a way that has previously been unappreciated—to discussions of the responsibility of psychopaths. In particular, after offering an alternative explanation of the available data on psychopaths and (...) their judgments of various sorts of norm transgressions, I put forward a hybrid theory of their responsibility, suggesting how they might be criminally responsible, while nevertheless failing to meet the conditions for an important arena of moral responsibility. (shrink)
How psychopaths and their capacity for moral action are viewed is not only philosophically interesting but is also important and relevant for policy. The philosophical discussion of psychopathy has focussed upon the psychological faculties that are prerequisites for moral responsibility and empirical findings regarding psychopathy that are relevant to philosophical accounts of moral understanding and motivation. However, there are legitimate worries about whether psychopathy is a robust scientific construct, and there are risks attached to reifying psychopathy (...) or other psychiatric constructs. We defend the concept of psychopathy by pointing out the relevance of empirical studies about it for our ordinary practices of ascribing moral responsibility and folk psychological accounts of moral understanding and motivation. (shrink)
Psychopathy has been the subject of investigations in both philosophy and psychiatry and yet the conceptual issues remain largely unresolved. This volume approaches psychopathy by considering the question of what psychopaths lack. The contributors investigate specific moral dysfunctions or deficits, shedding light on the capacities people need to be moral by examining cases of real people who seem to lack those capacities. -/- The volume proceeds from the basic assumption that psychopathy is not characterized by a single (...) deficit--for example, the lack of empathy, as some philosophers have proposed—but by a range of them. Thus contributors address specific deficits that include impairments in rationality, language, fellow-feeling, volition, evaluation, and sympathy. They also consider such issues in moral psychology as moral motivation, moral emotions, and moral character; and they examine social aspects of psychopathic behavior, including ascriptions of moral responsibility, justification of moral blame, and social and legal responses to people perceived to be dangerous. -/- As this volume demonstrates, philosophers will be better equipped to determine what they mean by “the moral point of view” when they connect debates in moral philosophy to the psychiatric notion of psychopathy, which provides some guidance on what humans need in order be able to feel the normative pull of morality. And the empirical work done by psychiatrists and researchers in psychopathy can benefit from the conceptual clarifications offered by philosophy. (shrink)
One of the philosophical discussions stimulated by the recent scientific study of psychopathy concerns the mental illness status of this construct. This paper contributes to this debate by recommending a way of approaching the problem at issue. By relying on and integrating the seminal work of the philosopher of psychiatry Bill Fulford, I argue that a mental illness is a harmful unified construct that involves failures of ordinary doing. Central to the present proposal is the idea that the notion (...) of failure of ordinary doing, besides the first personal experience of the patient, has to be spelled out also by referring to a normative account of idealised conditions of agency. This account would have to state in particular the conditions which are required for moral responsibility. I maintain that psychopathy is a unified enough construct that involves some harms. The question whether the condition involves also a failure of ordinary doing, as this notion is understood in this paper, is not investigated here. (shrink)
Psychopathy is often used to settle disputes about the nature of moral judgment. The “trolley problem” is a familiar scenario in which psychopathy is used as a test case. Where a convergence in response to the trolley problem is registered between psychopathic subjects and non-psychopathic subjects, it is assumed that this convergence indicates that the capacity for making moral judgments is unimpaired in psychopathy. This, in turn, is taken to have implications for the dispute between motivation internalists (...) and motivation externalists, for instance. In what follows, we want to do two things: firstly, we set out to question the assumption that convergence is informative of the capacity for moral judgment in psychopathy. Next, we consider a distinct feature of psychopathy which we think provides strong grounds for holding that the capacity for moral judgment is seriously impaired in psychopathic subjects. The feature in question is the psychopathic subject’s inability to make sincere apologies. Our central claim will be this: convergence in response to trolley problems does not tell us very much about the psychopathic subject’s capacity to make moral judgments, but his inability to make sincere apologies does provide us with strong grounds for holding that this capacity is seriously impaired in psychopathy. (shrink)
Do psychopaths make moral judgments but lack motivation? Or are psychopaths’ judgments are not genuinely moral? Both sides of this debate seem to assume either externalist or internalist criteria for the presence of moral judgment. However, if moral judgment is a natural kind, we can arrive at a theory-neutral criterion for moral judgment. A leading naturalistic criterion suggests that psychopaths have an impaired capacity for moral judgment; the capacity is neither fully present nor fully absent. Psychopaths are therefore not counterexamples (...) to internalism. Nonetheless, internalism is empirically problematic because it is unable to explain psychopaths’ moral deficits. (shrink)
The chapter offers a philosophical account of the capacity to recognise moral considerations to be used in investigating whether psychopaths are amoral, as opposed to immoral. The author criticizes Simon Baron-Cohen and James Blair et al., who maintain that psychopaths are amoral insofar they lack empathy, for endorsing a sentimentalist account of moral understanding. Moreover, the author criticizes Kant's version of rationalism for assuming an impersonal notion of moral rationality that is unconstrained by specific human features. He offers, instead, an (...) account of moral rationality in the spirit of Philippa Foot's Aristotelian inspired proposal. According to this view, moral rationality is a type of rationality that depends on the capacities for empathy, developing feelings of benevolence and resistance to causing harm. Although some psychopaths are irrational in other ways, the author suggest that central to psychopathy is a failure of moral rationality. (shrink)
Taxometric analyses were applied to the construct of psychopathy (as measured by the Psychopathy Checklist) and to several variables reflecting antisocial childhood, adult criminality, and criminal recidivism. Subjects were 653 serious offenders assessed or treated in a maximum-security institution. Results supported the existence of a taxon underlying psychopathy. Childhood problem behaviors provided convergent evidence for the existence of the taxon. Adult criminal history variables were continuously distributed and were insufficient in themselves to detect the taxon.
Although risky decision-making has been posited to contribute to the maladaptive behavior of individuals with psychopathic tendencies, the performance of psychopathic groups on a common task of risky decision-making, the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT; Bechara, Damasio, Damasio, & Anderson, 1994), has been equivocal. Different aspects of psychopathy (personality traits, antisocial deviance) and/or moderating variables may help to explain these inconsistent findings. In a sample of college students (N = 129, age 18–27), we examined the relationship between primary and secondary (...) psychopathic features and IGT performance. A measure of impulsivity was included to investigate its potential as a moderator. In a joint model including main effects and interactions between primary psychopathy, secondary psychopathy and impulsivity, only secondary psychopathy was significantly related to risky IGT performance, and this effect was not moderated by the other variables. This finding supports the growing literature suggesting that secondary psychopathy is a better predictor of decision-making problems than the primary psychopathic personality traits of lack of empathy and remorselessness. (shrink)
Corporate psychopathy thrives perhaps as the most significant threat to ethical corporate behaviour around the world. We argue that Human Resources Management professionals should formulate strategic solutions metaphorically by balancing what strategic military planners famously call ‘Search and Destroy’ and ‘Hearts and Minds’ counter-terrorist strategy. We argue that these military metaphors offer creative inspiration to help academics and practitioners theorise CP in richer, more reflective and more balanced and complementary ways. An appreciation of both metaphors is likely to favour (...) the use of hybrid strategies comprising SD and HM elements, which may provide the best HRM solutions to CP for the same reasons as the military now considers parallel hybrid solutions optimal for combating terrorist and guerrilla insurgency. (shrink)
Emotion processing is known to be impaired in psychopathy, but less is known about the cognitive mechanisms that drive this. Our study examined experiencing and suppression of emotion processing in psychopathy. Participants, violent offenders with varying levels of psychopathy, viewed positive and negative images under conditions of passive viewing, experiencing and suppressing. Higher scoring psychopathics were more cardiovascularly responsive when processing negative information than positive, possibly reflecting an anomalously rewarding aspect of processing normally unpleasant material. When required (...) to experience emotional response, by ‘getting into the feeling’ of the emotion conveyed by a negative image, higher factor 1 psychopathic individuals showed reduced responsiveness, suggesting that they were less able to do this. These data, together with the absence of corresponding differences in subjective self-report might be used to inform clinical strategies for normalising emotion processing in psychopathic offenders to improve treatment outcome, and reduce risk amongst this client group. (shrink)
I argue that emotional sensitivity (or insensitivity) has a marked negative influence on ethical perception. Diminished capacities of ethical perception, in turn, mitigate what we are morally responsible for while lack of such capacities may altogether eradicate responsibility. Impairment in ethical perception affects responsibility by affecting either recognition of or reactivity to moral reasons. It follows that emotional insensitivity (together with its attendant impairment in ethical perception) bears saliently on moral responsibility. Since one distinguishing mark of the psychopath is emotional (...) insensitivity, emotional insensitivity and the resulting impairment in moral perception either excuses the psychopath from moral culpability or moderates the degree to which he is culpable. (shrink)
After describing the disorder of psychopathy, I examine the theories and the evidence concerning the psychopaths’ deficient moral capacities. I first examine whether or not psychopaths can pass tests of moral knowledge. Most of the evidence suggests that they can. If there is a lack of moral understanding, then it has to be due to an incapacity that affects not their declarative knowledge of moral norms, but their deeper understanding of them. I then examine two suggestions: it is their (...) deficient practical reason or their stunted emotions that are at fault. The evidence supports both explanations. I conclude with an overview of the debate concerning whether they are morally or legally responsible for their actions. (shrink)
Several scholars have recognized the limitations of theories of moral reasoning in explaining moral behavior. They have argued that moral behavior may also be influenced by moral identity, or how central morality is to one’s sense of self. This idea has been supported by findings that people who exemplify moral behavior tend to place more importance on moral traits when defining their self-concepts (Colby & Damon, 1995). This paper takes the next step of examining individual variation in a construct highly (...) associated with immoral behavior — psychopathy. In Study 1, we test the hypothesis that individuals with a greater degree of psychopathic traits have a weaker moral identity. Within a large online sample, we found that individuals who scored higher on a measure of psychopathic traits were less likely to base their self-concepts on moral traits. In Study 2, we test whether this reduced sense of moral identity can be attributed to differences in moral judgment, which is another factor that could influence immoral behavior. Our results indicated that the reduced sense of moral identity among more psychopathic individuals was independent of variation in moral judgment. These results suggest that individuals with psychopathic traits may display immoral behavior partially because they do not construe their personal identities in moral terms. (shrink)
The issue whether psychopathic offenders are practically rational has attracted philosophical attention. The problem is relevant in theoretical discussions on moral psychology and in those concerning the appropriate social response to the crimes of these individuals. We argue that classical and current experiments concerning the instrumental learning in psychopaths cannot directly support the conclusion that they have impaired instrumental rationality, construed as the ability for transferring the motivation by means-ends reasoning. In fact, we defend the different claim that these experiments (...) appear to show that psychopaths in certain circumstances are not aware of the relevant means for their ends. Moreover, we suggest how further empirical research could help to settle the issue. (shrink)
Psychopathy is a developmental disorder associated with specific forms of emotional dysfunction and an increased risk for both frustration-based reactive aggression and goal-directed instrumental antisocial behavior. While the full behavioral manifestation of the disorder is under considerable social influence, the basis of this disorder appears to be genetic. At the neural level, individuals with psychopathy show atypical responding within the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. Moreover, the roles of the amygdala in stimulus-reinforcement learning and responding to emotional expressions (...) and vmPFC in the representation of reinforcement expectancies are compromised. The implications of these functional impairments for responsibility are discussed. (shrink)
Psychopathy presents a difficult challenge to moral and criminal responsibility theorists. Persons with the disorder have an impaired capacity for empathy and other moral emotions, and fail to feel the force of moral considerations. They have some rational impairments, but they reason adequately to manipulate, con, and exploit their victims, and otherwise to engage successfully in antisocial behavior. Is it appropriate to hold them morally responsible for their wrongdoing? Should the law hold psychopaths criminally responsible? This essay discusses philosophical (...) debates involved in addressing these questions. (shrink)
Psychopaths routinely disregard social norms by engaging in selfish, antisocial, often violent behavior. Commonly characterized as mentally disordered, recent evidence suggests that psychopaths are executing a well-functioning, if unscrupulous strategy that historically increased reproductive success at the expense of others. Natural selection ought to have favored strategies that spared close kin from harm, however, because actions affecting the fitness of genetic relatives contribute to an individual’s inclusive fitness. Conversely, there is evidence that mental disorders can disrupt psychological mechanisms designed to (...) protect relatives. Thus, mental disorder and adaptation accounts of psychopathy generate opposing hypotheses: psychopathy should be associated with an increase in the victimization of kin in the former account but not in the latter. Contrary to the mental disorder hypothesis, we show here in a sample of 289 violent offenders that variation in psychopathy predicts a decrease in the genetic relatedness of victims to offenders; that is, psychopathy predicts an increased likelihood of harming non-relatives. Because nepotistic inhibition in violence may be caused by dispersal or kin discrimination, we examined the effects of psychopathy on (1) the dispersal of offenders and their kin and (2) sexual assault frequency (as a window on kin discrimination). Although psychopathy was negatively associated with coresidence with kin and positively associated with the commission of sexual assault, it remained negatively associated with the genetic relatedness of victims to offenders after removing cases of offenders who had coresided with kin and cases of sexual assault from the analyses. These results stand in contrast to models positing psychopathy as a pathology, and provide support for the hypothesis that psychopathy reflects an evolutionary strategy largely favoring the exploitation of non-relatives. (shrink)
The harm usually associated with psychopathy requires therapeutically, legally, and ethically satisfactory solutions. Scholars from different fields have, thus, examined whether empirical evidence shows that individuals with psychopathic traits satisfy concepts, such as responsibility, mental disorder, or disability, that have specific legal or ethical implications. The present paper considers the less discussed issue of whether psychopathy is a disability. As it has been shown for the cases of the responsibility and mental disorder status of psychopathic individuals, we argue (...) that it is undecided whether psychopathy is a disability. Nonetheless, based on insights from disability studies and legislations, we propose that interventions to directly modify the propensities of individuals with psychopathic tendencies should be balanced with modifications of the social and physical environments to accommodate their peculiarities. We also suggest how this social approach in some practical contexts that involve non-offender populations might be effective in addressing some of the negative effects of psychopathy. (shrink)
This article proposes a formal model that integrates cognitive and psychodynamic psychotherapeutic models of psychopathy to show how two major psychopathic traits called lacks remorse and self-aggrandizing can be understood as a form of abnormal Bayesian inference about the self. This model draws on the predictive coding (i.e., active inference) framework, a neurobiologically plausible explanatory framework for message passing in the brain that is formalized in terms of hierarchical Bayesian inference. In summary, this model proposes that these two cardinal (...) psychopathic traits reflect entrenched maladaptive Bayesian inferences about the self, which defend against the experience of deep-seated, self-related negative emotions, specifically shame and worthlessness. Support for the model in extant research on the neurobiology of psychopathy and quantitative simulations are provided. Finally, we offer a preliminary overview of a novel treatment for psychopathy that rests on our Bayesian formulation. (shrink)
In the last decade, a series of acts of violence has increased the interest in understanding what prompts individuals to engage in serial killing, bombing, and other violent acts. The shootings of Columbine, Newtown, and Aurora in the United States, and of Oslo in Norway, 9/11, and the recent bombing during the Boston Marathon have raised questions of how to thwart such tragedies as well as of how to detect and possibly “control” individuals posing a threat to public safety. In (...) addition, the latest developments in neuroscience and neurotechnology have provided new insights concerning the assessment and manipulation of brain functions and human behavior. Current applications of neurotechnologies offer possibilities to expand our knowledge about the brain in areas traditionally reserved for “philosophical speculations,” such as the nature of consciousness, morality, and notions of mind and self. While the real potential of these emerging neurotechnologies remain to be established, it is. (shrink)
I advance a novel challenge for Divine Command Theory based on the existence of psychopaths. The challenge, in a nutshell, is that Divine Command Theory has the implausible implication that psychopaths have no moral obligations and hence their evil acts, no matter how evil, are morally permissible. After explaining this argument, I respond to three objections to it and then critically examine the prospect that Divine Command Theorists might bite the bullet and accept that psychopaths can do no wrong. I (...) conclude that the Psychopathy Objection constitutes a serious and novel challenge for Divine Command Theory. (shrink)
While psychopathy research has been growing for decades, a relatively new area of research is corporate psychopathy. Corporate psychopaths are simply psychopaths working in organizational settings. They may be attracted to the financial, power, and status gains available in senior positions and can cause considerable damage within these roles from a manipulative interpersonal style to large-scale fraud. Based upon prior studies, we analyze psychopathy research pertaining to 23 moral emotions classified according to functional quality and target. Based (...) upon our review, we suggest that psychopaths are high in moral emotions associated with other-directed negative signals, low in self-directed negative signals, and low in other-directed positive signals. We found no empirical articles related to self-directed positive signals. This understanding of the specific moral emotion deficits of corporate psychopaths provides greater theoretical understanding and practical implications of knowing which individuals not to promote, though more research is needed on moral emotions that are faked for manipulative reasons. (shrink)
The discussion of whether psychopaths are morally responsible for their behaviour has long taken place in philosophy. In recent years this has moved into scientific and psychiatric investigation. Responsibility and Psychopathy discusses this subject from both the philosophical and scientific disciplines, as well as a legal perspective.
Many spectacular claims about psychopaths are circulated. This contribution aims at providing the reader with the more complex reality of the phenomenon (or phenomena), and to point to issues of particular interest to philosophers working in moral psychology and moral theory. I first discuss the current evidence regarding psychopaths’ deficient empathy and decision-making skills. I then explore what difference it makes to our thinking whether we regard their deficit dimensionally (as involving abilities that are on or off) and whether we (...) focus on primary or secondary psychopathy. My conclusion is that most grand claims about psychopathy settling long-standing debates in moral philosophy and psychology are overblown, but there is much to be learnt from this disorder when it comes to formulating modern theories of moral psychology. (shrink)