September 2004, Volume 90, Issue 5|
Psychopathy and Responsibility
90 Va. L. Rev. 1423 (2004)
Although psychopaths represent to many people the model of moral evil, jurists and academics have argued that psychopaths should not be held responsible for their actions because the capacity to feel empathy toward others is a necessary part of how human beings make moral decisions and respond to morally relevant stimuli. Empirical psychological evidence has lent support to this conviction, demonstrating that emotional brain states appear to play an important role in the evaluation and motivation of normal people to perform moral actions. Focusing on psychopaths, this Note attempts to address these theories and discoveries. Part I describes the symptoms and behaviors of psychopathy. Part II discusses the orthodox view of criminal responsibility, which does not take as legally relevant emotional capacities, even under the rubrics of criminal insanity. Part III discusses the challenges posed by commentators who question this modelóboth those who assert that people who lack emotional appreciation for their actions are sub-rational and those who argue that a lack of emotional capacity undermines the ability of persons to be motivated to act as others do. Part IV attempts to integrate these claims in a new model of how emotions interact with cognitive systems. While this Note does not attempt to solve the question of whether psychopaths should be held criminally responsible for their actions, it integrates the psychological evidence into a model that can be used by philosophical and legal scholars looking into the moral concepts that underlie our ascriptions of responsibility.
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