Are Psychopaths Legally Insane?

Anneli Jefferson and I have just had a paper on psychopathy published in the European Journal of Analytic Philosophy. You can find the paper here.

Here’s the abstract:

The question of whether psychopaths are criminally and morally responsible has
generated significant controversy in the literature. In this paper, we discuss what
relevance a psychopathy diagnosis has for criminal responsibility. It has been
argued that figuring out whether psychopathy is a mental illness is of
fundamental importance, because it is a precondition for psychopaths’ eligibility
to be excused via the legal insanity defense. But even if psychopathy counts as a
mental illness, this alone is not sufficient to show the insanity defense is
applicable; it must also be shown that, as a result of the illness, specific deficits in
moral understanding or control are present. In this paper, we show that a
diagnosis of psychopathy will generally not indicate that a defendant is eligible
for an insanity defense. This is because the group of individuals subsumed under
the diagnosis is so heterogeneous that while some psychopaths do show
significant impairments in affect and control which may impact on their
responsibility, many psychopaths are not incapacitated in a way relevant to
responsibility.

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