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Mental Illness and Moral Discernment: A Clinical Psychiatric Perspective

Duncan A. P. Angus, Marion L.S. Carson

Abstract

As a contribution to a wider discussion on moral discernment in theological anthropology, this paper seeks to answer the question “What is the impact of mental illness on an individual’s ability to make moral decisions?” Written from a clinical psychiatric perspective, it considers recent contributions from psychology, neuropsychology and imaging technology. It notes that the popular conception that mental illness necessarily robs an individual of moral responsibility is largely unfounded.  Most people who suffer from mental health problems do not lose the capacity to make moral decisions, and mental illness on its own rarely explains anti-social or criminal behaviour. Moreover, the assumptions of some scientists, that recent developments in neuropsychology and brain imaging suggest biological determinism, must be treated with caution.

Keywords

free will; psychiatry; mental illness; theological anthropology; determinism; moral responsibility; neuropsychology

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