Psychiatrists often become very fond of their pet diagnosis and start thinking that around 80% of people have it or have lesser forms of it…
(E.g., thinking of the controversy over dissociative identity disorder in particular).
Psychopaths have become interesting to philosophers because they are supposed to help us settle whether morality is Kantian or Humean. Kant thought that morality was what REASON requires, whereas Hume thought that morality as more to do with what EMOTION requires. So we have cognitivist (Kantian) and non-cognitivist (Humean) theories of morality. (Also cognitivist and non-cognitivist theories of emotion, to complicate the issue).
Here is the thought: If psychopaths are defective in morality (and they are by definition) but not defective in reasoning (empirical claim) then Kant was wrong!
So now psychopaths are interesting because philosophers want to know if they have cognitive problems…
If you restrict the class of psychopaths to those in jail… The serial killers and the like… Then hollywood dramatizations aside psychopaths seem to have cognitive problems. Problems engaging socially (e.g., cooperating in betting situations where it is in their own advantage to cooperate). Problems with long term planning. Seems to vindicate Kant…
If we broaden the class of psychopaths to those who are considered to be highly functioning members of society (e.g., business people)… Then we no longer seem to find problems with long term planning or cooperation when it benefits the alleged psychopath. Seems Kant was wrong…
Will the real psychopaths please stand up?
Sometimes I find this mildly interesting :-)[/quote]
Good post. The field of ethics has always been riddled with logical paradoxes. Here’s my take on psychopaths’ cognitive problems:
Whilst they are extremely crafty and sly, like autistic people they seem unable to tell what other people are thinking. Classic example:
Hitler played the democracies for fools but after Dunkirk he actually thought he could make a deal with the British. He failed to read the nation’s temper and their new resolve.
Stalin had peasant cunning to an unusual degree but when Britain warned him of the Nazis’ invasion plans he dismissed it as a ‘capitalist trick’. He failed to understand the mindset of his soon to be allies.
There are other common traits shared between autistic people and psychopaths. They may be related disorders. Experts now think bi-polar and schizophrenia may be related too. Not trying to draw a conclusion from a single instance but Martin Bryant was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. A disorder closely related to austism.