Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Case Study
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 March 2010
Various authors have argued that progress in the neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric sciences might threaten the commonsense understanding of how the mind generates behavior, and, as a consequence, it might also threaten the commonsense ways of attributing moral responsibility, if not the very notion of moral responsibility. In the case of actions that result in undesirable outcomes (e.g., someone being harmed), the commonsense conception—which is reflected in sophisticated ways in the legal conception—tells us that there are circumstances in which the agent is entirely and fully responsible for the bad outcome (and deserves to be punished accordingly) and circumstances in which the agent is not at all responsible for the bad outcome (and thereby the agent does not deserve to be punished).
- Special Section: Philosophical Issues in Neuroethics
- Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010
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3. The term diminished responsibility in its technical sense is defined by appropriate legal codes (such as The Homicide Act 1957 in the United Kingdom) and it is generally used when defending someone against a charge of murder. In this paper we use the term reduced responsibility to mean that a person is less than fully responsible for a particular action, where the action does not need to be murder.
4. “Bill” is not the young man's real name, and other details of the case (when not relevant to the philosophical discussion that will follow) have been modified to protect confidentiality.
5. Another important question is this: Should we consider Bill responsible for the relapse of his illness because of his smoking of cannabis and to his noncompliance with medication? We do not have room to address this important issue here.
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