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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics (2010), 19:179-187 Cambridge University Press
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Special Section: Philosophical Issues in Neuroethics

Moral Responsibility and Mental Illness: A Case Study


Article author query
broome mr [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
bortolotti l [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]
mameli m [PubMed]  [Google Scholar]

Various authors have argued that progress in the neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric sciences might threaten the commonsense understanding of how the mind generates behavior, and, as a consequence, it might also threaten the commonsense ways of attributing moral responsibility, if not the very notion of moral responsibility. In the case of actions that result in undesirable outcomes (e.g., someone being harmed), the commonsense conception—which is reflected in sophisticated ways in the legal conception—tells us that there are circumstances in which the agent is entirely and fully responsible for the bad outcome (and deserves to be punished accordingly) and circumstances in which the agent is not at all responsible for the bad outcome (and thereby the agent does not deserve to be punished).

Matthew R. Broome, M.D., is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Warwick, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and Consultant Psychiatrist, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust. His research interests include the onset of psychosis, the formation of delusions, and philosophical issues in psychiatry and cognitive neuroscience. With Lisa Bortolotti, he recently coedited Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2009).

Lisa Bortolotti, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham, United Kingdom. She works in the philosophy of psychology and psychiatry and in the ethics of research, reproduction, and life extension. She is the author of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Polity, 2008) and of Delusions and Other Irrational Beliefs (Oxford University Press, 2009) and is the editor of Philosophy and Happiness (Palgrave, 2009).

Matteo Mameli, Ph.D., is Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College London, United Kingdom. His research is on topics in the philosophy of science (especially the philosophy of biology) and philosophical bioethics.


Lisa Bortolotti acknowledges the financial support of the AHRC Research Leave from January to April 2009 [AH/G002606/1]. The authors would like to thank Dr. Marc Lyall, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, for his useful comments.