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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Getting to the heart of psychopathy and moral responsibility Terzian, Bert J.

Abstract

Psychopaths. Who are they? What are they? How do they differ from the rest of us "normals?" And, why do they differ from the rest of us "normals?" For most of us, the word "psychopath" conjures up images of notorious serial killers, like Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Hannibal Lecter. However, psychopaths are not necessarily just serial killers. There crimes are often, and typically, petty offences, social misdeeds, or "crimes of the heart." They can be found in every community and in every profession. For the most part, they are identified in the psychological literature in terms of having an emotional deficit. Their characteristic feature, along these lines, is a lack of empathy, which is an imperative source of moral motivation. As such, philosophers generally discuss psychopaths in the context of notions associated with freedom and moral responsibility. The main question that is typically examined by philosophers, in this context, is whether or not psychopaths can legitimately be held morally responsible for their actions in light of their inherent lack of empathy. However, philosophers rarely make close contact with the psychological literature to examine the nature of the psychopath in developing their views. In this project, I briefly examine and explicate the psychological literature that illuminates the nature and development of the psychopath - from both the nature and nurture perspectives. By doing so, I am able to lay a foundation upon which a critical comparison can be made - between the nature of the psychopath and the nature of the non-psychopath - in working towards determining the essential ingredients that constitute moral agency, subsequent attributions of moral responsibility, and, ultimately, whether or not psychopaths can legitimately be held morally responsible for their actions.

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