Being Amoral: The Deficits of the Sociopaths
There are people who do not or cannot care for morality. Some of them commit hideous crimes, apparently without feeling pity for their victims or remorse about their deeds. These people are called psychopaths, sociopaths, or, in the more recent wording of the psychiatric profession, people with 'antisocial personality disorder'. Psychopathy has bedevilled many different disciplines for a long time. The phenomenon specifically raises important questions in relation to philosophy, psychiatry, and law. The conference sets out to discuss an important topic that underlies many of the more common discussions: What specific deficits, if any, do sociopaths have? By addressing this question the symposium will contribute to the most basic questions about the nature of moral agency. The scholarly debate has hitherto mainly focused on two issues: What we are morally responsible for?; and in what sense does moral knowledge enable virtuous action? Sociopaths seem to suffer from a "lack of moral sense", a phenomenon that is often described as being amoral, in contrast to immoral, because sociopaths seem to be incapable of understanding and therefore acting upon moral demands. Sociopaths are therefore regarded as a test case of philosophical theories that attempt to answer the question of what it means to be a person who can take the moral point of view. In psychiatry, however, psychopathy has been classified as a mental disorder, seemingly on the basis of value-judgements about the undesirability of the related behaviour and the importance of preserving basic moral norms, rather than on the basis of scientific findings about the condition. Public and policy debate has been mainly concerned with legal problems and the management of dangers to society, which sociopaths pose. Both the precise diagnosis of a particular personality disorder and an assessment of moral responsibility or moral personality are, however, only possible with a clearer idea of what specific kinds of deficits are involved in cases of sociopathy. Although there is limited but interesting published research on this topic, there has been very little concerted debate between international experts from philosophy, psychiatry, cognitive science, history, and sociology. In the last few years there have been encouraging developments in the interdisciplinary field of philosophy of psychiatry, which have signalled a shift in emphasis from radical hypothetical thought experiments to the discussion of real people with challenging psychological conditions. These advancements and the related new methodologies make this proposal a timely one. The symposium will be an example of empirically sensitive philosophical enquiry.
Projektleitung: Prof. Dr. Thomas Schramme
Drittmittelgeber: supported by the Wellcome Trust