Studying moral reasoning in forensic psychiatric patients

Gwen Adshead, Christine Brown, Eva Skoe, Jonathan Glover and Sarah Nicholson

in Empirical Ethics in Psychiatry

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780199297368
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754586 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Studying moral reasoning in forensic psychiatric patients

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Research into the process of making moral choices has mainly focused on the development of moral reasoning capacity in children and adolescents. However, another group of interest are those individuals who appear to have either not acquired, lost, or failed to exercise their moral reasoning capacity in the context of mental illness or psychological disorders; a group whose moral decision-making (or lack of it) has a profound and sometimes tragic effect on other people.

In this chapter, we will discuss the different ways by which moral/ethical reasoning might be studied in forensic psychiatric patients. These are people who not only need secure containment to prevent them from doing harm to others, but also need therapy, both for their own benefit, and to reduce their risk to others. Understanding how they come to make moral decisions is important for both descriptive and therapeutic purposes. Using data from a study of ethical reasoning in forensic patients, we will review methods of researching ethical reasoning, and examine both cognitive and linguistic approaches to the assessment of moral reasoning. The data also raises questions about how we should judge patients with psychiatric disorders who are also criminal offenders, in terms of their moral responsibility.

Chapter.  8504 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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