Essay on Is It Wrong To Criminalize and Punish Psychopaths?

Published: 2021/11/18
Number of words: 925

Over the years neuroscientists and psychologists have come up with evidence to support the claim that emotions have a significant role in influencing moral behavior and judgment. The study into the brain functions of psychopaths reveals that their emotional capacity is dysfunctional, and as a result, these pieces of evidences have cast a dilemma as to how psychopathic criminals should be treated in the criminal justice law. This topic has created a heated debate among scholars, some who agree with the assertion that it is wrong to punish psychopaths, while others offer contradictory suggestions. This paper aims to summarize and critically evaluate Andrea Glenn, Adrian Raine, and William Laufer arguments that the moral judgments of psychopaths are impaired and therefore they should not be prosecuted by the criminal justice system.

The authors, Glenn, Raine, and Laufer, argue that the emotional capacity of an individual influence his\her moral behavior and judgments. Unlike the conventional view which attributes moral behavior to logic reasoning, they believe that conscientious moral emotions are the reason behind moral or ethical behavior patterns (Glenn et al, 302). The research conducted by neuroscientist indicates that the part of the brain that deals with emotions, become active in the process of making a moral decision, hence proving the notion that emotions largely determines the behavior of a person. Furthermore, a study conducted on patients whose emotion processed region had been damaged, reveled that they were incapable of feeling remorse or empathy in the event of hurting someone. As a result, psychopaths tend to perceive abusive actions as normal occurrences, and therefore persecuting such individuals in the criminal justice law would be wrong.

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Another argument raised by the authors is that immoral behavior displayed by psychopaths is most probably an outcome of emotional inadequacy. A study into the brain functioning of psychopaths reveals that the part of the brain associated with emotions in psychopaths is lacking in both the emotional function and structure. These findings correspond with the evidence of the research done by neuroscientists, which concluded that when faced with a moral dilemma, which involves causing harm to a person, a psychopathic individual experience minimized emotional response compared to their normal counterparts (Glenn et al, 302). As such it’s only logical to conclude that emotional deficit apparent in psychopaths, inherently makes them unable to differentiate what is morally good or wrong, and this justifies the opinion that is wrong to punish or criminalize them.

Lastly, the authors argue that, according to the various research findings, which assert that psychopaths have impaired emotional reactions that distort their moral behavior and judgments, the criminal justice law should exempt such individuals from penalties advocated for normal criminals (Morse, 205). Currently, the criminal law sustains that psychopaths are like any other criminals, in that they commit questionable acts intentionally with the knowledge of the consequences their actions will have, therefore they decline evidence of psychopathy as a defense mechanism. Thus, the central argument of the authors here is that psychopaths do not have the required motivation that is primarily responsible for initiating morally upright behavior. As such, there is a need for the legal system to consider these findings, before handing out judgments on psychopaths, meaning that they should not be held responsible for the antisocial and immoral acts they execute.

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However, the arguments presented above, in one way or more, are weak and lack accuracy. According to utilitarian ethics theory, decisions made are majorly based on the resultant consequences it will attract. Even though psychopaths are known to lack in emotional reasoning, and are diagnosed with impaired moral behavior, they can still realize the consequences that their actions would have and thus can refrain from harming people (Royce, 395). Secondly, the claim that psychopaths are capable of committing vile acts due to their inability to conjure empathetic feelings is not justifiable. This is because, according to the deontological theory of ethics, when an individual is faced with a moral dilemma, all they have to do is remember that everyone should be regarded with respect and dignity because we all have rights (Schwickert & Sarah, 164). This knowledge is apparent to everyone, including psychopaths, therefore their actions should be treated accordingly as the criminal law implies.

In conclusion, from the above arguments, it is evident that psychopaths are not entirely to be blamed for their actions due to their deficiency of emotions that trigger good or moral behavior and judgment. The evidence provided by researchers should be enough to convince the criminal justice to take into consideration psychopathic criminals when passing judgment on them. However, it is also important to acknowledge the innocent lives destroyed in the process, therefore, strict measures should be applied to ensure that normal, ordinary civilians are protected against these psychopaths.

Works cited

Glenn, Andrea L. et al. “Is It Wrong to Criminalize and Punish Psychopaths?”. Emotion Review, vol 3, no. 3, 2011, pp. 302-304. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/1754073911402372.

Morse, Stephen J. “Psychopathy and Criminal Responsibility”. Neuroethics, vol 1, no. 3, 2008, 205-212. Springer Science and Business Media LLC, doi:10.1007/s12152-008-9021-9.

Royce, Josiah. “The Aesthetic Element in Morality, And Its Place in A Utilitarian Theory of Morals.Frank Chapman Sharp”. The International Journal of Ethics, vol 4, no. 3, 1894, pp. 395-399. University of Chicago Press, doi:10.1086/intejethi.4.3.2375179.

Schwickert, Eva-Maria, and Sarah Clark Miller. “Gender, Morality, And Ethics of Responsibility: Complementing Teleological and Deontological Ethics”. Hypatia, vol 20, 2, 2005, pp. 164-187. Cambridge University Press (CUP), doi:10.1353/hyp.2005.0089.

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