Morality and Psychopathy II

Related to the previous post.

Virtue Ethics gives the following reason to be moral: If you want true inner peace and happiness in life, then you have to be moral, because moral virtues are by definition those traits which lead to an inner state of health, happiness and peace.

The statement seems to have empirical correlates: If we can show the presence of a psychopath who is happy and at peace, then the virtue ethics hypothesis would be refuted.

Can a psychopath be truly happy and at peace?

Does a psychopath even feel the need to be happy and at peace?

I don't know.

I guess not.


The only reason for moral behavior that you can give to a psychopath, that comes to my mind, is that of social functioning. Behave morally because it would allow you to function in the society, get access to food and sex, and avoid being jailed or punished: that is, behave morally because it will further your own interests in some way. But that would only motivate a psychopath to perform the minimum possible of moral behavior that is needed, and at any opportunity that he can get away with, he'll relapse to being manipulative.

It doesn't sound like a reason to be moral; it sounds like a reason to pretend to be moral.


If there was a purely rational reason to behave morally, then we could convince a psychopath to be moral.

It appears that we cannot convince a psychopath to be moral by reasoning with him.

Therefore, it appears that there is no purely rational reason to be moral.


Komal said…
Your description of virtue ethics is correct, although the content of 'the good life' is usually more complex than just inner peace and happiness. It can involve the presence of flourished vitality (Nietzsche), or union with God/Christ (Christian mysticism), as well certain changes in consciousness, which are described in a lot of detail in certain mystical philosophies (which I consider to come under the 'virtue ethics' label).

It can also involve an understanding that the ego is an illusion and everything is impermanent (Buddhism). And so on.

The psychopath may not experience a desire for flourishing/the good life, but that does not matter to the objective worth of such a life. From a virtue ethical perspective, the value of the good life is not dependent on people's desire for it, but is objective, and people ought to align their desires with such a goal (which will happen naturally, IMO, when there aren't egoistic or other kinds of blocks, and as a person grows in understanding).

This brings me to a general point about meta-ethical problems such as the 'why-be-moral' problem. Whether or not a psychopath can be convinced to be moral may not be the best criterion for determining the truth on this matter. After all, a person may still not be convinced by the truth. Whether or not someone gets convinced pertains to their psychology and the nature of rhetoric, not just to the truth.