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Thursday, November 5, 2020

Are psychopaths moral‐psychologically impaired? Reassessing emotion‐theoretical explanations

Rasmus Rosenberg Larsen
Mind & Language. 2020; 1– 17. 


Psychopathy has been theorized as a disorder of emotion, which impairs moral judgments. However, these theories are increasingly being abandoned as empirical studies show that psychopaths seem to make proper moral judgments. In this contribution, these findings are reassessed, and it is argued that prevalent emotion‐theories of psychopathy appear to operate with the unjustified assumption that psychopaths have no emotions, which leads to the hypothesis that psychopaths are completely unable to make moral judgments. An alternative and novel explanation is proposed, theorizing psychopathy as a degree‐specific emotional deficiency, which causes degree‐specific differences in moral judgments.

From the Conclusion Section

Motivated by a suite of ostensibly undermining empirical studies, this paper sought to defend and qualify emotion-theories of psychopathy by explicating in detail the philosophical and psychological commitments these theories appear to be implicitly endorsing, namely, a (constructivist) sentimentalist framework. This explication demonstrated, above all, that psychopathy studies appear to operate with an inconsistent set of hypotheses when trying to capture the differences between diagnosed psychopaths and controls in terms of their moral judgments and values. This led to a consideration of alternative research designs particularly aimed at capturing the potential moral psychological differences that follows from having diminished emotional dispositions, namely, degree-specific differences related to the two-dimensional value spectrum, as opposed to differences related to answers on moral categorical issues.