Evil or Ill? Justifying the Insanity Defence

By Lawrie Reznek | Go to book overview

12

THE CLASH OF PARADIGMS

HOW RATIONAL ARE WE?

We need to be rational to be responsible, because only if we are rational can we do otherwise in standard circumstances. If we are all irrational, no one will be responsible. But is it possible to discover that we are all irrational? There are some philosophers who believe we can never discover this. Cohen (1981) uses the competence/performance distinction proposed by Chomsky (1957) to argue that we cannot. According to this distinction, someone can know the rules of grammar, but still speak ungrammatically for other reasons-for example, he may forget the earlier part of a long sentence and fail to complete it grammatically. Similarly, if a subject fails to be logical, this need not imply that he lacks the rules of logic. Armed with this distinction, we can always interpret logical errors as performance errors, and conclude that everyone is perfectly logical. But this argument is flawed. If someone consistently makes errors in his reasoning, it looks decidedly empty to assume that he really possesses perfect competence in the rules of logic but that circumstances constantly bias his use of them.

Although any hypothesis can be held true come what may, the perfect competence account seems to gain epicycles too fast. Eventually, it amounts to saying that an agent accepts a metatheoretically adequate logic; he just usually misapplies it because, for example, in Cohen's words, eliciting conditions are 'rarely, if ever, ideal for the exercise of such a competence.' Rather than attempting a principled account, a classical competence/performance distinction must

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Evil or Ill? Justifying the Insanity Defence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - A History of Criminal Responsibility 15
  • 2 - A Taxonomy of Defences 38
  • 3 - Ignorance as an Excuse 61
  • 4 - Compulsion as an Excuse 75
  • 5 - Automatism as an Excuse 93
  • 6 - The Justification of Excuses 115
  • 7 - Causality as an Excuse 135
  • 8 - The Reductionist Theory 152
  • 9 - Irrationality as an Excuse 173
  • 10 - The Concept of Disease 200
  • 11 - Character Change as an Excuse 223
  • 12 - The Clash of Paradigms 246
  • 13 - The Insanity Defence in Practice 266
  • Conclusion 295
  • Bibliography 311
  • Index 322
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