Legal Responsibility: Psychopathy, a Case Study

Elizabeth Shaw* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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This chapter draws attention to a question that has been paid insufficient attention to in the legal philosophical literature on the criminal responsibility of psychopaths: Who should bear the burden of proving that they are or are not responsible and to what standard? It provides some reasons for thinking that raising a reasonable doubt as to psychopaths’ capacity for moral understanding should be enough to justify exempting them from criminal responsibility and punishment. (Although it may still of course be necessary to hospitalize or treat them—if effective treatments can be developed—to prevent them from harming others.) This chapter summarizes relevant research on psychopathy and discusses an interpretation of this research that is consistent with at least some psychopaths being entitled to an excuse based on their impaired emotional capacities. Since, in some cases, there may be enough evidence to raise a reasonable doubt concerning the criminal responsibility of individuals with psychopathy, this chapter proposes that it should be decided on a case-by-case basis whether someone diagnosed with psychopathy should be excused from criminal responsibility.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Moral Responsibility
EditorsDana Nelkin, Derk Pereboom
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780190679309
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2022


  • Psychopathy
  • criminal responsibility
  • moral uncertainty
  • sentimentalism
  • punishment


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