A Moral Sketch of Psychopaths

In psychopathy intention plays an integral role in the observers evaluation of the moral weight of the psychopaths actions.

So a psychopath slices and dices a person up. Is the psychopath wrong. Well, consequentialism would tell us yes, duty would tell us yes, and so would utilitarianism.

But, his motives may have been largely determined. Such that, an incapacity for moral autonomy decreases the ethical weight of motive in the context of an ethical crime.

This understanding of a psychopaths moral autonomy only serves the purpose of developing the idea of choice. That choice depends upon many different things. For psychopaths, the choice is comparatively very narrow.

Living things have certain biological needs. Humans have a biological need to eat. That need is reflected in us evolutionarily as a desire (explain complexity of that need-desire relationship). Yet we only call eating in certain contexts a ‘choice’.

A choice is presented when there are two or more options, reflected in one or more alternatives. In respect to people eating, there aren’t generally any choices (irrespective of feeding tubes, liquid diets, supplements etc…). The alternative to not-eating increasingly grows in complexity, leading up to fatality. If you choose not to eat once, the consequence is hunger. So the options are ‘don’t eat’ or ‘eat-later’, or ‘be hungry’ (without any plans to eat later). The third choice, is almost never a choice – because eating is a need, the third option represents an implicit understanding or admission that food si readily available, and so the choice to eat has still been made (eating later). If you repeatedly ‘chose’ not to eat, over time, you will suffer and eventually die. So in that sense, eating isn’t a choice, it’s a need.

Needs are reflected in people internally as a very compelling requirement – as a non-option (you have to do it). If you were to apply the same logic used above for ‘choice’ to ‘needs’, for the individual the options would be: a) fulfill need-requirement, or b) die. Needs represent vital biological requirements an individual must meet to survive. They are quantifiable in the life of an organism. If the needs aren’t met, there are consistent, and obvious biological implications. (There are social needs as well, but we don’t have to get into them for this explanation.). Needs are the function nature uses to awake awareness within an organism or individual.

It’s possible that for some people, certain things are biologically encoded as needs which do not represent a vital biological requirement, but are gross exaggerations of other needs taken to extremes. For instance, we can all agree that organisms have needs that positively increase with the organisms complexity, the communities complexity and the complexity of it’s environment. So things like ‘competition’ which isn’t a vital biological requirement to keep an organism alive in isolation, become vital needs in the context of a community. In certain environments (most, actually) competition is required for survival. Other needs will then act on that need depending on the environmental cues. If food is at stake, the need for competition increases. If a mate is at stake, the need for competition increases. Those needs then will evolve into requiring other needs. So aggression becomes a need in certain circumstances. (These needs can be represented giving increasing and decreasing primacy (primary, secondary etc…)

 

In psychopaths, it’s been consistently demonstrated that certain things distinguish them from any average representative in a given population of humans. They tend to be male, have a reduction in non-verbal communication, empathy, cortical dysfunctions (prefrontal cortex and amygdala), higher-than-normal levels of testosterone (there are other correlates as well) as well as certain personality traits (narcissism, a-social, detachment etc…). What all of these things share in common is that they express a decrease in the individual for a capacity of what we would call ‘free-choice’. To the Psychopath, killing, hurting, is a need. It comes at a cost – ‘choosing’ is as compelling as eating.

In the psycopath, choice is subjectively, as well as objectively, expressed far differently than in the general population. This effect has a noticeable effect on psychological functioning, on survival, on mental health and well-being, on happiness, and on morality. It’s grossly dysfunctional, but in the context of morality, whether or not the psychopath can be judged as similarly as a ‘normal’ average person (a morally autonomous individual) is still up for debate. This is particularly confusing giving the extreme weight of the moral violations which are so common to psychopaths. The crimes represent moral polarities, and so the need for conviction in our moral outrage is high. But I think this added complexity needs to be matched with added complexity – if we’re to establish some equilibrium. Or else we risk losing sight of our moral philosophy and the principles that cement it to our reality.

For a psychopath, the intention to do harm is not present like it would be in someone like myself. I understand the consequences of a wrong action, and so if I am motivate just to hurt someone, than I am intending to be immoral. For psychopaths, it’s much different.

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