Discerning Madness from Badness

In two days I’ll be at the Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Moral Responsibility conference in Orem, UT, organized by Chris Weigel.

The program is brimming with fascinating talk titles and topics including “Moral Enhancement” by Adina Roskies, “Addiction, Fallibility and Responsibility” by Chandra Sripada, “The Brain Functions that Make Us Responsible (or not)” by Katrina Sifferd and William Hirstein, and “Does Neuroscience Undermine Responsibility” by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong.

I’m thrilled to be on this program, scheduled to give my talk – which previews the contents of one of the chapters of my “Compatibilist Theory of Legal Responsibility” book that I am writing – at 9am on Friday, the title and abstract for which are below.


Are psychopaths mad or are they bad? When we uncover neurophysiological correlates of their flattened affect, impulsiveness, or similar traits, are we thereby furnished with evidence of their mental incapacities or of their character flaws? After identifying a number of potential confusions, this paper will sketch out my capacitarian compatibilist framework for using neurophysiological data in the context of answering the above kinds of questions. My framework has four components: (1) distinguish capacities from meta-capacities, (2) consider both in the context of a holistic assessment, (3) reserve a role for historical factors not just snapshot properties, and (4) beware of how incompatibilist intuitions can undermine the aforementioned holistic assessment. The utility of my framework will be demonstrated by explaining how guilt and sentencing decisions in cases other than psychopathy can also be informed by neuroscientific data.

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