Saturday, May 10, 2008

Experiments in Philosophy: Can the mentally ill be to blame?

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Suppose you discovered that someone has committed a horribly violent crime. And now suppose I tell you one additional fact about the person who performed this act: he or she is mentally ill. In fact, suppose I tell you that the reason he performed this act he is suffering from damage to a particular area of his brain. Would you still conclude that he could be morally responsible for what he had done?

At this point, you might be guessing that no one would hold an agent morally responsible in such a circumstance. After all, how could we hold someone morally responsible for behavior that was clearly the result of neurological illness? Surely, anyone would agree in such a case that the agent is not to blame for what he has done!

Guess again. As Matthew Hutson has recently emphasized, people show a depressingly persistent tendency to attribute moral responsibility -- a tendency that persists even in the face of strong theoretical reasons to reach the opposite conclusion.

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Can the mentally ill be to blame? | Psychology Today Blogs

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