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Moral Responsibility and the Psychopath

Abstract

Psychopathy involves impaired capacity for prudential and moral reasoning due to impaired capacity for empathy, remorse, and sensitivity to fear-inducing stimuli. Brain abnormalities and genetic polymorphisms associated with these traits appear to justify the claim that psychopaths cannot be morally responsible for their behavior. Yet psychopaths are capable of instrumental reasoning in achieving their goals, which suggests that they have some capacity to respond to moral reasons against performing harmful acts and refrain from performing them. The cognitive and affective impairment of the psychopath justifies mitigated responsibility, but not excuse.

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Acknowledgments

An earlier version of this paper was presented at a symposium on psychopathy at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, in Baltimore, MD, USA, December 28, 2007. I thank my co-panelists and the audience for helpful discussion. I am also grateful to Ish Haji and an anonymous reader for valuable comments. The writing of this paper was supported in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, NNF 80045, States of Mind: Emerging Issues in Neuroethics.

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Correspondence to Walter Glannon.

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Glannon, W. Moral Responsibility and the Psychopath. Neuroethics 1, 158–166 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-008-9012-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-008-9012-x

Keywords

  • Affective impairment
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Control
  • Excuse
  • Mitigation
  • Moral responsibility
  • Psychopathy
  • Reasons–responsiveness