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Valuing others: Moral responsibility and psychopathy

Baxter, James Edward (2017) Valuing others: Moral responsibility and psychopathy. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

The question of whether psychopaths are morally responsible is a difficult one for philosophers and non-philosophers alike. In comparison to some other forms of mental illness, it is difficult to locate intuitions concerning what our attitudes to psychopaths should be and how they should be treated. This is because, unlike people with some other forms of mental illness, psychopaths (qua psychopaths) do not appear to be mistaken about the facts bearing on their choices, but they do appear to lack understanding of the world in an important way. Working within an understanding of moral responsibility as consisting in responsiveness to reasons, I argue that psychopaths lack responsiveness to certain kinds of reasons and are therefore not morally responsible for failing to act on reasons of these kinds. Based on a review of the empirical evidence, I conclude that psychopaths experience deficiencies of emotional engagement and of empathy, which are the result of events that are not under their control. I argue that these deficiencies lead ‘hardcore’ psychopaths (those at the high end of the scale for the deficiencies in question) to fail to develop the capacity to recognise entities other than themselves as sources of value, and thus to recognise that the rights, interests and concerns of others provide reasons which bear on their choices. These psychopaths are therefore not morally responsible for failing to act on such reasons. Nonetheless, I argue that these reasons apply to psychopaths’ choices in a way that they do not apply, for example, to the choices of non-human animals. Implications of these conclusions include 1) that some reactive attitudes, such as resentment or hurt feelings, are inappropriate when directed at psychopaths, and 2) that some justifications for punishment are unavailable in the case of psychopaths.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Ethics, applied ethics, neuroethics, moral psychology, responsibility, moral responsibility, reasons-responsiveness, psychopathy, psychopath, psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, criminal, punishment.
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Depositing User: Dr James E Baxter
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2017 09:13
Last Modified: 24 Aug 2017 09:13
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/18026

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