Are Psychopathic Serial Killers Evil? Are they Blameworthy for What They Do?

In Sarah Waller (ed.), Serial Killers and Philosophy. Blackwell (2010)
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At least some serial killers are psychopathic serial killers. Psychopathic serial killers raise interesting questions about the nature of evil and moral responsibility. On the one hand, serial killers seem to be obviously evil, if anything is. On the other hand, psychopathy is a diagnosable disorder that, among other things, involves a diminished ability to understand and use basic moral distinctions. This feature of psychopathy suggests that psychopathic serial killers have at least diminished responsibility for what they do. In this chapter I consider whether psychopathic serial killers might be properly said to be both evil and morally responsible for their actions. I argue that psychopathic serial killers are plausibly evil in at least one recognizable sense of the term, but that they are nevertheless not likely to be responsible for many of the evils they perpetuate.

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Manuel Vargas
University of California, San Diego


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