Thursday, December 2, 2010

Psychopathy, Ethical Perception, and Moral Culpability

Very interesting article by Ishtiyaque Haji.

Abstract (Via Ishtiyaque Haji):
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.
It is not hard to see why psychopathy is thought to aggravate rather than mitigate responsibility when we consider some of the diagnostic features and clinical descriptions of psychopathy. Psychopathic individuals are callous, manipulative, deceitful, indifferent to the rights of others, and lacking in empathy and remorse [5, 6]. A diagnosis of psychopathy looks to be evidence, not of impairment, but of the offender’s lack of any redeeming qualities that the court could take into account (e.g., [7]) (p. 425). 
In brief, various parties have submitted that psychopaths show little or no remorse for their wrongdoings. In addition, it seems that they do not lack the sort of control—“responsibility-relevant control”—that culpability requires in performing a wide array of actions. Nor, it seems, do they customarily meet the criminal law’s excusing yardstick for mental insanity: the inability to appreciate the wrongfulness of one’s actions owing to severe impairment in one’s capacity for practical reasoning.1 Why, then, should they not be culpable for their relevant offenses?
How, precisely, does emotional insensitivity affect ethical perception? To explore this issue, I proceed in this way. Fear and empathy are different (negative and positive) emotions that together play a necessary role in the capacity for anticipatory guilt and regret. It is widely acknowledged that the psychopath exhibits deficits in his capacity for fear and empathy, which in turn results in deficiencies in his capacity to feel guilt for his harmful actions. These deficits have effects on the psychopath’s recognition of moral reasons (receptivity), and, even assuming that he is receptive to such reasons, on his motivation to act from such reasons (reactivity).
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