The doctrine of the partial responsibility of the insane for criminal acts is taken, Penta points out, in a different sense by lawyers and by alienists. The former interpret it as meaning that an insane person, no matter how insane he may be, is to be held in some measure accountable for his conduct unless it can be shown to depend logically on his delusions. The alienists, on the other hand, would apply the doctrine to cases of slight or early insanity, putting forward the mental condition as a plea in mitigation of punishment. In either sense the doctrine is fallacious. The mind is a unity, a synthesis, and not a mere aggregate, and the idea of spheres of mind, one sane and the other diseased, is quite untenable. And further, the fallacy is a very mischievous one. It would combine the maximum of harm to the insane person with the minimum of protection to society; the degree and not the nature of the social reaction would be changed, so that the insane culprit would be subjected to penal discipline instead of to medical treatment; and his time of restraint would be shortened so that he would have increased opportunities for wrongdoing. The doctrine is, in fact, a feeble and useless compromise in the struggle between tradition and science. In the present state of that struggle the proper attitude of the alienist is to confine himself to indicating the mental condition of the criminal without entering into the metaphysical question of “responsibility.” If forced to deal with that question he will do wisely to hold fast to the choice between absolute responsibility and absolute irresponsibility.
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