Responsible psychopaths

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Abstract:

Psychopaths are agents who lack the normal capacity to feel moral emotions (e.g. guilt based on empathy with the victims of their actions). Evidence for attributing psychopathy at least in some cases to genetic or early childhood causes suggests that psychopaths lack free will. However, the paper defends a sense in which psychopaths still may be construed as responsible for their actions, even if their degree of responsibility is less than that of normal agents. Responsibility is understood in Strawsonian terms, as a question of our appropriate reactive attitudes toward an agent for what she does, and as distinct from the question of the agent's own motivating attitudes, which lead him to do what he does. The latter is the question more directly relevant to free will, though moral motivation normally depends on the capacity in early childhood to pick up motivating attitudes from others' reactive attitudes. Reactive attitudes based on hatred rather than anger (e.g. disgust or contempt) count as alternative forms of blame that may be appropriately directed toward agents manifesting bad qualities of will, even as a matter of motivational impairment. So psychopaths may still be said to deserve blame, even if they are incapable of modifying their behavior in response to blame.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0951508032000121797

Publication date: September 1, 2003

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