What, If Anything, Can Syndromes Like Autism and Sociopathy/Psychopathy Tell Us About the Roles Reason and Emotion Can in Play in Shaping Moral Judgment?
The moral/conventional distinction is the ability to tell a moral rule from one that is merely conventional.
This conclusion was supported by analyses comparing the identification of emotion with moral acceptability judgments; whereas the degree to which emotion identification was (a)typical correlated with moral acceptability judgments in those without ASD, these were uncorrelated in individuals with ASD. Although typical individuals judged the moral acceptability of emotion-evoking statements based on the emotion likely to be evoked, and alexithymia, characterized by reduced emotion identification, negatively impacted on this process, those with ASD did not rely on emotion judgments when judging moral acceptability. If alexithymia predicts moral judgments in disorders, screening for alexithymia may contribute to decreasing the proportion of individuals with mental health issues currently in the criminal justice system. Systematic examination of the role of alexithymia across a number of clinical conditions is therefore warranted to fully characterize moral reasoning in individuals with psychiatric conditions.
Specifically, I will consider a recent philosophical debate polarized between supporters of rationalist and sentimentalist accounts of moral understanding. These opponents have discussed whether the case of psychopathy offers empirical support for their account and undermine the rival view. I will argue that the available empirical data leave the outcome of this discussion indeterminate. However, this implies that both these principal theories of moral understanding, if independently motivated, would imply that psychopaths have certain deficits that might affect their moral understanding and, consequently, their moral responsibility. Moreover, due to the work of the psychologist Robert Hare, focusing on psychopathy appears to be more promising than considering the general notion of antisocial personality disorder.3 In the last three decades, Hare has offered and investigated an operational refinement of Harvey Cleckley's classical clinical characterization of psychopathy (Hare 1991, Cleckley 1976). Hare's notion of psychopathy demarcates a relevant subgroup amongst the individuals that are classified as having antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorder (DSM IV) (American Psychiatric Association 1994).
In clinical practice, patients are often on more than one points of this neurodevelopmental spectrum and each aspect of the spectrum that they present with needs treatment.
Hare RD. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised. Multi-Health Systems; Toronto: 1991.
Cleckley HM. The Mask of Sanity: An Attempt to Clarify some Issues About the So-called Psychopathic Personality. Mosby; St. Louis (MO): 1976.
American Psychiatric Association . Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th Ed. American Psychiatric Association; Washington, D.C: 1994.
Blair J, Mitchell D, Blair K. The Psychopath: Emotion and the Brain. Blackwell; Oxford: 2005.
Patrick CJ, editor. Handbook of Psychopathy. The Guildford Press; New York/London: 2006.