On Blaming and Punishing Psychopaths

Anneli Jefferson, Marion Godman

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Current legal practice holds that a diagnosis of psychopathy does not remove criminal responsibility. In contrast, many philosophers and legal experts are increasingly persuaded by evidence from experimental psychology and neuroscience indicating moral and cognitive deficits in psychopaths and have argued that they should be excused from moral responsibility. However, having opposite views concerning psychopaths’ moral responsibility, on the one hand, and criminal responsibility, on the other, seems unfortunate given the assumption that the law should, at least to some extent, react to the same desert-based considerations as do ascriptions of moral responsibility. In response, Stephen Morse has argued that the law should indeed be reformed so as to excuse those with severe psychopathy from blame, but that psychopaths that have committed criminal offences should still be subject to some legal repercussions such as civil commitment. We argue that consequentialist and norm-expressivist considerations analogous to those that support punishing psychopaths or at least retaining some legal liability, might also be drawn on in favour of holding psychopaths morally accountable.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCriminal Law and Philosophy
Early online date7 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Psychopathy
  • Desert-disease jurisprudence
  • Moral responsibility
  • Criminal responsibility
  • Stephen Morse
  • Moral-conventional distinction


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