Document Type



Psychopath; Ethics; Accountability; Neuroethics; Punishment; Mental Illness

Publication Date

Spring 4-17-2015


The field of neuroscience has opened up a proverbial can of worms when it comes to questions of free will and culpability. The more we know about the mind the more it appears that no one has any real choice in their actions. The ethical implications of this assumption are astronomical. Guilt and culpability come into question; it would seem unjust to punish a person for a crime if he had no choice but to commit it. While these are interesting questions for an ethicist they are impractical for society as they might affect how society functions. As such, the practical solution has been to assume that all rational, healthy persons maintain enough free will to be held accountable for their actions. Those who are viewed as irrational and mentally unstable are frequently not held accountable due to their mental illness. This leaves a gray area: what to do with those who are neither irrational nor mentally ill, but simply have no conscience or empathy? Can they be culpable?

I build on Matthew Talbert’s work to strengthen the argument in favor of holding psychopaths culpable due to their rational agency. While psychopaths feel no connection to social norms, they do know how society functions. This knowledge allows us to conclude that psychopaths and should be held accountable for their actions. This in turn has a significant impact on the way society views psychopaths as well as how the law treats them.

Open Access


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.