Why Psychopaths Are Responsible

Samuel H. Pillsbury

Loyola Law School Los Angeles


ch. 16, Handbook on Psychopathy and Law (Kiehl & Sinnott-Armstrong, eds., 2013) Oxford Univ. Press

This book chapter argues that psychopaths should be held fully responsible for the criminal acts they commit. The law's current view, holding persons responsible for harms done for reasons that demonstrate basic disregard for others, has been challenged by a conception of moral responsibility based on reason-responsiveness: the capacity of an individual to recognize and respond to the special obligations of moral principles. The behavioral science of psychopathy suggests that psychopaths lack a capacity for appreciating the special force of moral reasons. Some therefore have argued that they lack the basic rationality required for moral responsibility. To resolve the tension between norms of reason-responsiveness and criminal law, the author examines the basic function of criminal law. In order to achieve its social, moral and political goals, the criminal law assesses the social-moral meaning of conduct, which justifies its view of culpability as harmful conduct demonstrating disregard. Under this approach, psychopaths are fully rational actors, following a me-now philosophy that often leads to harmful conduct demonstrating disregard. The argument for responsibility is illustrated by consideration of the Columbine massacre, in which one of the participants was likely a psychopath.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 22

Keywords: psychopathy, responsibility

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Date posted: January 26, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Pillsbury, Samuel H., Why Psychopaths Are Responsible (2013). ch. 16, Handbook on Psychopathy and Law (Kiehl & Sinnott-Armstrong, eds., 2013) Oxford Univ. Press. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2313758

Contact Information

Samuel H. Pillsbury (Contact Author)
Loyola Law School Los Angeles ( email )
919 Albany Street
Los Angeles, CA 90015-1211
United States
213-736-1093 (Phone)

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