Rationalism, emotivism, and the psychopath

Heidi L. Maibom

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

Rationalism, emotivism, and the psychopath

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The answer to our initial question should now be clear. Psychopaths suffer both from deficits in moral emotions and deficits in practical reason. Either deficit is likely to impact their moral competence profoundly. This is very clear in the case of moral emotions. What is less clear, of course, is the extent to which moral emotions are themselves dependent on practical reason. Similarly, narrowed attention, response reversal, inflated sense of self, etc., have quite an impact on someone's moral ability. What needs more work is determining to what extent such deficits can explain the psychopath's attitude to morality. From where we stand now, we must conclude that the psychopath's moral deficit is compatible with both sentimentalism and rationalism. This does not mean, I think, that little is learnt from looking at psychopaths, only that what we have learnt does not help us settle that debate at present. In fact, I think psychopathy teaches us a lot about the emotions involved in morality and about the structure of practical reason. Much is gained from focusing on sorting out these aspects of the disorder without having to use it to solve a grander puzzle. That might come later.

Chapter.  6403 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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