Are psychopaths morally responsible? Should we argue with them? Remonstrate with them, blame them, sometimes even praise them? Is it worth trying to change them, or should we just try to prevent them from causing harm? And how should society treat them, particularly if they have committed crimes? To answer these questions, we first need to understand what a psychopath is, which means engaging with insights from psychiatry, psychology and neuroscience. We also need to know what moral responsibility is, which is a deep and difficult philosophical question. And then we need to join the dots, applying the criteria of moral responsibility to a category of person whose emotional engagement with the world may be shallow, but who are not obviously irrational.
In a conversation that ranges across all of these areas, Jim ultimately argues that at least some psychopaths lack the ability to value others, which is fundamental to moral life, and are therefore not morally responsible for their actions. Finally, the discussion turns to the implications of this position for how psychopaths should be treated in the criminal law.
Ethics Untangled is produced by the IDEA Ethics Centre at the University of Leeds.