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Moral Responsibility and Psychopathology Workshop

University of Birmingham, Worcester Room
Thursday 21 March 2013 (09:15-16:30)

Professor Lisa Bortolotti:

Funded by a Wellcome Trust Small Grant in Ethics and Society


The workshop was a great success, thanks to four stimulating talks and lively discussion. See abstracts of talks below.


Workshop organisers

Lisa Bortolotti is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Her main research areas are the philosophy of psychology and the philosophy of psychiatry. She is interested in the limitations of human cognition and the ethical issues emerging from biomedical research. She is the author of Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs (Oxford University Press, 2009) for which she was awarded the American Philosophical Association Book Prize in 2011.

Matthew Broome is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Warwick and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust. He co-edited Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Maudsley Reader in Phenomenological Psychiatry (Cambridge University Press, 2012).

Matteo Mameli is a Reader in Philosophy at King's College London. He obtained a Laurea in Filosofia (Cum Laude) from the University of Bologna (1997) and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of London (2002). Before joining KCL in 2007, he was a Junior Research Fellow in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at King's College in Cambridge. His research is in the philosophy of science, particularly the philosophy of biology, the philosophy of psychology and the ethics of science and technology.

Workshop speakers

Simon Wessely has been knighted in January 2013 for this work on the mental health of military personnel. He is Professor of Psychological Medicine and Vice Dean at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, Head of the Department of Psychological Medicine, and Honorary Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist at King’s and Maudsley Hospitals. His research interests are in the grey areas between medicine and psychiatry. He has published over 650 papers on many subjects, including epidemiology, post-traumatic stress, psychological debriefing, chronic pain, somatisation, Gulf War illness, military health and terrorism. He has recently co-authored books on chronic fatigue syndrome, the randomised controlled trial in psychiatry, and a new history of shell shock.

His talk was entitled "Responsibility and psychiatry: a non expert view".

Tom Clark is Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist with Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham.  For nearly 10 years he was the visiting forensic psychiatrist to HMP Birmingham, one of the largest local prisons in the UK.  His publications particularly include psychiatric aspects of sentencing mentally disordered offenders and he has written or edited 3 psychiatric textbooks, including Practical Forensic Psychiatry (Hodder Arnold, 2011). He regularly provides expert psychiatric evidence to criminal courts.

Title of talk: "Insanity in the courtroom". 

Abstract: Psychiatry and the law tend not to mix well, approaching criminal cases from very  different perspectives.  The defence of not guilty by reason of insanity is particularly problematic, perhaps because of the unusual way in which the legal, so called M'Naghton, criteria were established in 1843.  The available evidence suggests that psychiatric expert evidence shows poor reliability and often does not take proper account of the legal criteria.  Meanwhile Crown Courts seem to adopt a much more flexible approach to legal procedure and interpretation of the criteria than appellate judgments require.  Several other common law jurisdictions have modified the M'Naghton criteria in one or more of 3 ways, all of which tend to make the criteria less restrictive.  Psychiatrists and the courts in England and Wales  would benefit from revision of the M'Naghton criteria to bring them more in line with contemporary psychiatric theory and practice, particularly what is now known about the relationship between violence and mental disorder.

Jillian Craigie is a Senior Research Fellow in Philosophy at University College London, funded by the Wellcome Trust. Her research interests are in moral psychology, meta-ethics, and medical ethics and law especially in the area of mental health. Her current work is focused on moral issues arising from the appeal to the notion of compromised capacities in the context of mental illness, across determinations of mental capacity in private law and culpability in criminal law.

Her talk was entitled: "Criminal and clinical lenses for judging responsibility: a case study of anorexia nervosa and addiction". 

Abstract: That a person suffers problems of control is, in English law, a relevant consideration both in relation to their mental capacity to make treatment decisions, and their mental responsibility for certain criminal acts. In this talk we compare and evaluate the way that problems of control are taken into account in these two kinds of legal determination, by examining the approach adopted in cases of anorexia nervosa and drug addiction.

Neil Levy is an Australian Research Council Fellow at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes and Director of Research at the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics. He works primarily on free will, moral responsibility and philosophical psychology. His most recent books are Neuroethics (Cambridge University Press, 2007) and Hard Luck (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Title of talk: "Moral responsibility and psychopathy (again)."

Abstract: Moral responsibility for actions depends crucially on the quality of will agents express. I argue that psychopaths' deficits with regard to empathy and to mental time travel entail that they cannot intend morally relevant harm to others or an impairment of their autonomy, respectively. I suggest that these facts, in turn, entail that they do not act with a bad quality of will. They cannot act in order to cause morally relevant harms to others or to infringe their autonomy; they cannot even ignore or set aside the fact that their actions might cause these harms; therefore their quality of will is not (significantly) bad.

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