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Being AmoralPsychopathy and Moral Incapacity$
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Thomas Schramme

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262027915

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: January 2015

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262027915.001.0001

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The Words but Not the Music: Empathy, Language Deficits, and Psychopathy

The Words but Not the Music: Empathy, Language Deficits, and Psychopathy

(p.115) 5 The Words but Not the Music: Empathy, Language Deficits, and Psychopathy
Being Amoral

Gwen Adshead

The MIT Press

The chapter is concerned with a connection between emotional deficits of psychopaths and their inability to linguistically express and communicate emotions. This idea goes back to Cleckley’s account of “semantic dementia.” In pursuing the thesis that psychopaths “know the words but not the music,” the author draws on qualitative empirical research concerning forensic psychiatric patients. It is argued that certain negative emotions, such as guilt, shame, and disgust, are relevant for moral understanding. In order to understand and to cause emotions, we can make use of language since words can represent feelings. The specific deficit of alexithymia, that is, the incapacity to put feelings into words, seems pertinent in this regard, but respective research is inconclusive. A different approach is therefore applied, one that does not focus on linguistic parts, but on meaning-conferring narratives. In conclusion, the author aims to identify traits of narrative incoherence in psychopathy, using examples from her own interviews.

Keywords:   psychopathy, empathy, alexithymia, semantic dementia, moral emotions, moral identity, narratives

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