Autism, Psychopathy, and Moral Agency
CGSC 1001 A – Lecture 16
• Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterized by a lack of cognitive
empathy and an inability to take others’ perspectives.
• Perspective taking: Trying to take on another’s point of view and diminish
Symptoms of ASD
• Qualitative impairments in communication
• Qualitative impairments in social interaction
• Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and
• Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with
onset prior to 3 years.
1) Social Interaction
2) Language as used in social communication
3)Symbolic or imaginative play
Theory of Mind
• Autistics perform poorly on Theory of Mind tests
• These tests take two forms:
1) Location change tasks
2) Content change tasks
• They also perform poorly in other sectors of theory of the mind, such as
deception tests, metaphor, and the ability to read emotions in another’s face.
• It is a form of personality disorder categorized in the DSMIV under antisocial
• Influenced by both environmental and genetic factors
• Unlike sociopathy (many of the same features) it is mainly hereditary
• It is diagnosed using the PCLR (Psychopathy Checklist)
• Defining characteristic is a lack of empathy, which is associated with lack of
affect emotional response.
• 20% of the prison population are psychopaths, Approx. 300,000 in Canada, 1
4% of the population
• Unresponsive to therapy, treatment often makes them worse
• Often in business occupation because of its competitive nature, the belief that
they are above the rules often leads to their success. Empathy
• An emotion typically divided into two parts – cognitive and effective
o Emotion sharing
o Mental flexibility
o Emotion regulation
• Is believes to contribute to prosocial and athruistic action.
• Connected to morality (Smith and Hume, 18 Century)
Autism, Empathy and Moral Agency
• Empathy is central to Hume’s concept of Morality
• Both psychopaths and autistics lack empathy so both are “unqualified for
moral agency” in Humean morality.
• Autistics lack empathy, but they can morally reason about the right thing to
• Kantian morality appe