Moral Responsibility of the Psychopath by Anders Goodwin

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Moral Responsibility of the Psychopath by Anders Goodwin




Psychopathy is estimated to affect approximately 1% of the population of the United States (Neumann & Hare, 2008a), yet the harms stemming from psychopaths are disproportionately large relative to their prevalence among the general populace. Recent mass shootings such as those in Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Norway have increased the visibility of psychopaths and psychopathic behavior in the media and subsequently in America’s legal conversation. Given the increased focus on those with this disorder, the need for clear articulation of standards of moral responsibility with regard to psychopathy has never been greater. The way in which we conceptualize a psychopath’s moral responsibility underpins and guides the development of legal and social policy as it applies to such persons.
In this paper, I defend the thesis that psychopaths are, in relation to non-psychopaths, either less or not at all morally responsible for their actions. I premise this claim on the fair opportunity notion of moral responsibility, and argue that psychopaths possess to a diminished or nonexistent extent both faculties needed for the fair opportunity view, namely normative competence and situational control. I begin with a brief overview of the history of psychopathy as a construct, after which I survey the state of psychological and physiological research into psychopathy. Following this, I defend the use of one particular line of argument, give a general account of moral responsibility, and argue for my thesis. After exploring potential objections to the argument, I conclude with a brief discussion of the implications of the argument.


Goodwin, Anders


Senior Showcase Oral presentation


Ripon College


April 23, 2015


The author reserves all rights.




Majors: Philosophy, Psychology, Theatre
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
PHL 492 - Senior Seminar I


Goodwin Moral Responsibility of Psychopaths.pdf


Goodwin, Anders, “Moral Responsibility of the Psychopath by Anders Goodwin,” Senior Showcase Digital Collection, accessed July 14, 2024,

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