Psychopathy and criminal responsibility in historical perspective

Tony Ward

in Responsibility and psychopathy

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2010 | ISBN: 9780199551637
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754630 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Psychopathy and criminal responsibility in historical perspective

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This chapter aims to set the evolution of the concept of psychopathy in the context of medico-legal debates over responsibility. A number of studies have traced the development of the nineteenth-century concept of ‘moral insanity’ and ‘moral imbecility’ into concepts of psychopathy, sociopathy, and personality disorder.1 What has received relatively little attention is the extent to which these conceptual developments were interwoven with debates about legal responsibility. Some medical writers were interested in radically challenging legal views and annexing almost the whole of criminal behaviour to the domain of psychiatry, while others took a more conciliatory view and sought to distinguish a minority of criminals (and a kindred group who escaped criminal conviction) from the general run of offenders. Rather than seeing psychopathy and its predecessors as scientific concepts which happen to have complex implications for legal and moral responsibility, it may be more fruitful to see them as categories of legally and morally problematic individuals whose identification had important implications for psychiatry and criminology.

Chapter.  7152 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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