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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Psychopathy as moral blindness: a qualifying exploration of the blindness-analogy in psychopathy theory and research

Rasmus Rosenberg Larsen (2020) 
Philosophical Explorations, 23:3, 214-233
DOI: 10.1080/13869795.2020.1799662


The term psychopathy refers to a personality disorder associated with callous personality traits and antisocial behaviors. Throughout its research history, psychopathy has frequently been described as a peculiar form of moral blindness, engendering a narrative about a patient stereotype incapable of taking a genuine moral perspective, similar to a blind person who is deprived of proper visual perceptions. However, recent empirical research has shown that clinically diagnosed psychopaths are morally more fit than initially thought, and the blindness-analogy now comes across as largely misleading. In this contribution, the moral-blindness analogy is explored in an attempt to qualify anew its relevance in psychopathy theory and research. It is demonstrated that there are indeed theoretically relevant parallels to be drawn between blindness and psychopathy, parallels that are especially illuminating when accounting for the potential symptomatology, dimensionality, and etiological nature of the disorder.

Concluding remarks

In summary, what has been proposed throughout this paper is a perspective in terms of how to interpret and improve psychopathy research, an approach which lends itself to theorize psychopathy as a peculiar form of moral blindness. Following leading research, it was posited that psychopathy must, first of all, be understood as an emotional disorder, that is, a disorder of substantial emotional attenuation. Building on Prinz’s constructivist sentimentalism, it was demonstrated how said emotional incapacity could manifest in moral psychological impairments, as an inability to perceive the degrees of moral rightness and wrongness. Prinz’s theory was then expanded by adding (or amending) that psychopaths are not necessarily impaired in terms of perceiving the categorical value of a given moral situation, i.e. judging whether something is either right or wrong. Indeed, psychopaths must perceive this basic information by the mere fact that they do have some levels of valanced emotional experience. Instead, what is predicted is that globally low emotion attenuation (i.e. psychopathy) leads to observable differences in terms of
judging the degree of rightness and wrongness of a situation.