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  • Response to the Commentaries
  • Lloyd Fields
Abstract

In this response, I address three points raised in the commentaries: the question of whether there is a legitimate formal use of “moral,” the claim that a certain sort of affective capacity is required for acquiring the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs, and the problem of how to show that psychopaths lack the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs. I maintain that there is a use of “moral” according to which moral beliefs need not be rational. Regarding the affective capacity that Adshead identifies, I explain that I had not intended that such a capacity be constitutive of a moral belief, even an other-regarding one. I then try a new approach, in the light of Adshead’s commentary, to the third point addressed, according to which the psychopath is unable to form other-regarding moral beliefs because a causally necessary condition for doing so is absent in him.

Keywords

Moral beliefs, moral understanding, personality disorder, empathy, incapacity, responsibility

The criticisms offered in the three excellent commentaries on my paper raise deep and important issues. I agree with many of the points made and will respond to three key issues: (1) the question of whether there is a legitimate formal use of “moral”; (2) the claim that there is a certain sort of affective capacity that is required in order to form other-regarding moral beliefs; (3) the problem of how to show that psychopaths lack the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs.

I concede that Duff establishes (Duff 1977) that the psychopath lacks moral understanding in Duff’s own content-based sense of “moral.” It is illuminating, however, to emphasize that in my formal sense a psychopath of the kind that I consider in my paper is capable of some degree of understanding of “moral” concepts. Unlike Duff, I do not build rationality into my account of moral principles. Hence, I can accommodate eccentric, irrational or even “crazy” moral beliefs like that of Duff’s split-infinitive fanatic. A person can have irrational factual beliefs; why not irrational moral beliefs?

Adshead in her commentary attributes to me the claim that moral beliefs, including other-regarding beliefs, “result” in a disposition to experience certain emotions, and to have certain attitudes in certain situations. She then writes, “it is arguable that the disposition to experience certain emotions and have certain attitudes towards others could be critical to acquiring the capacity to have other-regarding beliefs.” There is only an apparent disagreement here. First, I intended to claim that a disposition to experience certain emotions, etc., is partly constitutive of having a moral belief, not a result of having one. Second, in specifying my third condition of having a moral belief, I had in mind such attitudes and emotions as approval, disapproval, indignation and remorse. Adshead identifies an affective capacity, aspects of which are the recognition of, empathy with, and sympathy with, another’s distress. This capacity seems to correspond more or less to what Rousseau described as “natural compassion” (Rousseau [End Page 291] 1973, 66–69), which arises prior to reflection and the use of reason, and which is exemplified by a mother’s responsiveness to the distress of her child. Rousseau distinguished natural compassion from moral virtues, which require the use of reason. I agree with Adshead that having this affective capacity is likely to be critical to acquiring the capacity to have other-regarding moral beliefs.

Radden’s incisive commentary poses the problem of how to show that the psychopath lacks the capacity to form other-regarding moral beliefs, since this does not follow from the fact that he fails to form them. In the light of Adshead’s commentary, I should like to try a different approach to this problem. At least one type of situation in which we say that something, x, cannot do a certain sort of thing, d, is one where a causally necessary condition for x doing d is absent. For example, we should say of a car, not simply that it does not run, but that, as it is presently constituted, it cannot run, if we found that the carburetor of its...

Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3303
Print ISSN
1071-6076
Pages
pp. 291-292
Launched on MUSE
1996-12-01
Open Access
No
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