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Being Amoral

Being Amoral: Psychopathy and Moral Incapacity

Thomas Schramme editor
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Being Amoral
    Book Description:

    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.ContributorsGwen Adshead, Piers Benn, John Deigh, Alan Felthous, Kerrin Jacobs, Heidi Maibom, Eric Matthews, Henning Sass, Thomas Schramme, Susie Scott, David Shoemaker, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Matthew Talbert

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32038-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-40)
    Thomas Schramme

    To research and write about psychopathy from an interdisciplinary perspective involves trying to pin down quickly moving targets. Almost nothing in relation to this phenomenon can be taken for granted. Psychopathy has been described in various ways in the psychiatric, legal, and philosophical literature; indeed, the terminological landscape has changed in the last few decades. It is also yet to be determined exactly howpsychopathyrelates to similar, but different, constructs, such associopathyorantisocial personality disorder.¹ Hence, it is certainly fair to say that psychopathy is a contested concept, and that it is hard to identify clear-cut cases...

  5. 2 The Heterogeneous Construct of Psychopathy
    (pp. 41-68)
    Henning Sass and Alan R. Felthous

    The concept of “psychopathy,” which is at the beginning of our notion of “personality disorders,” has important roots in the French, German, and Anglo-American psychiatric traditions. Well into the twentieth century, sociocultural factors caused these conceptions of psychopathy to develop more or less independently. This chapter deals with all three traditions and the development of standard nomenclatures. A brief overview of the main conceptual milestones is given in table 2.1. Earlier descriptions of this complex development can be found in Sass (1987), Sass and Herpertz (1995), and Sass and Felthous (2008).

    Pinel’s concept of amanie sans délire(mania without...

  6. I Moral Capacities and Incapacities

    • 3 Psychopathy and Moral Rationality
      (pp. 71-90)
      Eric Matthews

      The word “psychopathy” is used in theDiagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(fourth edition; DSM–IV; American Psychiatric Association 1994) only as a possible synonym for that work’s preferred term “antisocial personality disorder” (which I shall henceforth normally abbreviate to “APD”). The essential feature of APD is said to be “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others” (American Psychiatric Association 1994, 645): In short, it is defined in terms of thebehaviorof the person. However, other diagnostic criteria are said to include what we might rather callattitudes: impulsivity, aggressiveness, callousness,...

    • 4 Without Fellow Feeling
      (pp. 91-114)
      Heidi L. Maibom

      The impoverished emotional lives of psychopaths capture the attention of most people. Psychopaths have impaired empathy, sympathy, guilt, remorse, shame, and love and their emotional experiences tend to be shallow (Cleckley 1982; Hare 2004).¹ What stands out most is their disregard for the well-being of others. Psychopaths are extraordinarily egocentric; they do not take the perspective of their victims and callously disregard their pain and suffering. They have no compunction about manipulating and lying to others. For psychopaths, an action’s harmfulness does not appear to count against, and sometimes counts in favor of, performing it.² Psychopaths appear to care about...

    • 5 The Words but Not the Music: Empathy, Language Deficits, and Psychopathy
      (pp. 115-136)
      Gwen Adshead

      In the first edition of his famous work on psychopathy,The Mask of Sanity, Hervey Cleckley (1941) describes a group of men and women who lack the psychological capacity to engage in deep and enduring emotional relationships with others, and who use the language of emotion and feeling in a meaningless way. Cleckley called this “semantic dementia”: although in a later edition, he made it clear that this lack of capacity was not a linguistic one but reflected a lack of deeper, more complex, psychological structures for the experience and communication of emotion (Kiehl 2006). This deficit was summarized poetically...

    • 6 Psychopathic Comportment and Moral Incapacity
      (pp. 137-166)
      Kerrin A. Jacobs

      Meta-ethics has formulated types such as the moral free rider or moral nihilist, who are not motivated to be morally good persons or to be regarded as commendable members of the moral community. But do such prototypes fully account for the phenomenon Michael Smith has dubbed “real life psychopaths” (Smith 1994, 67)? The intentionality and phenomenality of psychopathic amoralism seem to be different from these other types: Psychopaths neither try to give arguments against morality in terms of a sophisticated nihilism as exemplified by Thrasymachus in Plato’sRepublic, nor do they seem to belong to that clever kind of free...

    • 7 Not Caring: Sociopaths and the Suffering of Others
      (pp. 167-184)
      Piers Benn

      I begin with an intuitive and rather obvious fact about suffering. This is that when you suffer, you want that suffering to end, other things being equal. Even if you consider your suffering as justified in some way—for example, as punishment or because it is the lesser of two evils—there is still something intrinsically aversive about it. Admittedly, there have been suggestions that certain neurological interventions allow people to experience pain but somehow “not mind” it. This is intriguing and not to be ruled out a priori. However, I shall stick with the normal case of suffering: a...

  7. II Issues in Moral Psychology

    • 8 Do Psychopaths Refute Internalism?
      (pp. 187-208)
      Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

      Many moral philosophers endorse some version of motivational internalism about moral judgment. In response, their opponents often cite psychopaths as counterexamples to such internalism. In my view, they are both wrong: Internalists are wrong to claim an internal relation between moral judgment and motivation (Brink 1989; Sinnott-Armstrong 1993), and their critics are wrong to claim that psychopaths refute motivational internalism about moral judgment.

      Here I will focus on the claim that psychopaths refute internalism. First, I will define internalism and psychopathy. Then, I will survey the scientific literature on psychopaths’ moral judgments and their motivations. Next, I will discuss whether...

    • 9 Psychopathic Resentment
      (pp. 209-226)
      John Deigh

      Hitchcock, inShadow of a Doubt, introduced a new kind of villain into his films. His previous villains, while conventionally ruthless and sinister, were largely plot devices. His most successful earlier films were about espionage, reflecting the growing political tensions in Europe at the time, and the villains in those films were spies and assassins whose intrigues created the suspense for which Hitchcock had become famous. InShadow of a Doubt, by contrast, the suspense comes from the villain himself: one Charles Oakley, masterfully played by Joseph Cotten. Oakley, to his sister and her family, is the worldly Uncle Charlie,...

    • 10 Being a (A-)Moral Person and Caring about Morality
      (pp. 227-244)
      Thomas Schramme

      In the philosophical debate on the foundations of morality, a specter is lurking: the figure of the amoralist. This is a person who entirely rejects morality’s normative power. Such persons are not simply immoral, but rather a-moral, in the sense that moral rules, norms, and standards have no influence on their behavior. In philosophical ethics, it is sometimes argued that we must give the amoralist a reason for adhering to morality, or risk endangering the very bases of morality as an institution of behavioral control (Bayertz 2004).

      Psychiatric practice, meanwhile, is concerned with the diagnostic description and therapeutic treatment of...

  8. III Social Aspects:: Blame, Transgression, and Dangerousness

    • 11 Psychopathy, Responsibility, and the Moral/Conventional Distinction
      (pp. 247-274)
      David W. Shoemaker

      In many current discussions of the moral and criminal responsibility of psychopaths, the moral/conventional distinction bears a great deal of weight, albeit for strikingly different conclusions. For some theorists, psychopaths’ failure to distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions suggests that they are not capable of the sort of moral understanding necessary for either moral or criminal responsibility. Because we cannot justifiably blame them, says Neil Levy, we also cannot expose “them to those aspects of the criminal justice system which are expressive of blame.”¹ For others, psychopaths’ responses to the moral/conventional distinction ground just the opposite conclusion: while their viewing...

    • 12 The Significance of Psychopathic Wrongdoing
      (pp. 275-300)
      Matthew Talbert

      I argue below that psychopaths are sometimes open to moral blame on account of their wrongdoing. Thus, on my view, psychopaths are sometimes appropriate targets for negative reactive attitudes like resentment that characterize moral blame.

      On the approach to moral responsibility that I pursue, blame is fundamentally a response to a certain characteristic significance that other agents’ actions can have for us. The argument of this chapter depends, therefore, on the claim that despite their impairments, psychopaths possess rational and agential capacities that endow their behavior with a significance that makes blaming responses appropriate. As a kind of shorthand, I...

    • 13 Contesting Dangerousness, Risk, and Treatability: A Sociological View of Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder (DSPD)
      (pp. 301-320)
      Susie Scott

      The sociology of mental health makes an important contribution to debates about psychopathology by shifting the focus of attention away from individual minds and behavior and toward the social and cultural context in which these are embedded (Rogers and Pilgrim 2010). Whereas colleagues in psychiatry and moral philosophy attempt to identify the distinguishing features of the sociopath, such as a lack of moral understanding, empathy, and responsibility and other presumed psychological deficits, sociology’s concern is with the social processes through which such criteria are decided upon and used to categorize groups of people. Bracketing out (without dismissing) the question of...

  9. 14 Conclusion: The Many Faces of Psychopathy
    (pp. 321-324)
    Thomas Schramme

    The research on psychopathy is a good example of the chances, as well as the challenges, of interdisciplinary research. It is obvious that we will not make progress in philosophy when using a phenomenon like psychopathy in order to bear evidence for theoretical claims—for instance, regarding moral motivation or responsibility—unless we have a clear grasp of its empirical basis. This need of philosophical accounts to be empirically valid, however, does not yet lead to a real interdisciplinary approach since it does not require an interchange between different disciplines. It would still allow for philosophical theorists to simply draw...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 325-326)
  11. Name Index
    (pp. 327-330)
  12. Subject Index
    (pp. 331-336)