Intentional action, moral responsibility, and psychopaths

Grant Gillett

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

Intentional action, moral responsibility, and psychopaths

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A theory of action explains behaviour in such a way as to exhibit its connection with the psychology of an individual and the constitution of a human being as a moral agent. The aim of this chapter is to outline an adequate theory of action so as to understand the problems in attributing moral responsibility to psychopaths and to examine the idea that they have a defect of mind affecting volition. When we examine the life of a psychopath the problems with the will (or volition) and the lack of remorse (Blair, 2003) seem to occur in the absence of any obvious ‘lesion of the intellect’(Cleckley, 1976,) and are ‘not to be confused with the life of an ordinary purposeful criminal or of a cold opportunist who, in the pursuit of selfish ends, merely disregards ethical considerations or the rights of others’ (Cleckley, 1976, 43). The puzzling difference from ordinary criminality is evident: given ‘this man's failure to make any effort to conduct himself sensibly through so many years, there is no wonder that many are bound to say that he is of unsound mind’ (Cleckley, 1976, 94). What explains the apparently intentional behaviour of such an individual and its apparent disconnection from the prudence and moral consideration that, for most of us, flows from a life of engagement with others?

Chapter.  7271 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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