Psychopathy: what apology making tells us about moral agency

Ayob, Gloria Leila orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5374-2161 and Thornton, Tim orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-0137-1554 (2014) Psychopathy: what apology making tells us about moral agency. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 35 (1). pp. 17-29. ISSN 1386-7415

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Psychopathy is often used to settle disputes about the nature of moral judgment. The “trolley problem” is a familiar scenario in which psychopathy is used as a test case. Where a convergence in response to the trolley problem is registered between psychopathic subjects and non-psychopathic (normal) subjects, it is assumed that this convergence indicates that the capacity for making moral judgments is unimpaired in psychopathy. This, in turn, is taken to have implications for the dispute between motivation internalists and motivation externalists, for instance. In what follows, we want to do two things: firstly, we set out to question the assumption that convergence is informative of the capacity for moral judgment in psychopathy. Next, we consider a distinct feature of psychopathy which we think provides strong grounds for holding that the capacity for moral judgment is seriously impaired in psychopathic subjects. The feature in question is the psychopathic subject’s inability to make sincere apologies. Our central claim will be this: convergence in response to trolley problems does not tell us very much about the psychopathic subject’s capacity to make moral judgments, but his inability to make sincere apologies does provide us with strong grounds for holding that this capacity is seriously impaired in psychopathy.

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