Juvenile delinquents’ views on antisocial behavior, neurobiology & mental disorder

by Dorothee Horstkötter

The question of whether psychopaths, and more ordinary criminals, have mental incapacities or character flaws is an interesting conceptual and philosophical challenge. Next to theoretical reflection, however, an applied and empirical approach should be informative for the debate. What do people concerned think about this? Which perspective would they prefer? And most importantly, why?

I present the results of a series of in-depth interviews conducted with juveniles in a juvenile justice institution. It appeared, for example, that with regard to mental incapacities, juveniles do not invoke them as an excuse, yet claim instead that their crime had been due to their own choice — maybe a bad one, but at least it had been their own choice. Other topics mentioned by the juveniles with potential interest for corresponding ethical and philosophical debates comprise the relevance of being oneself and of being just a normal person.

I end by discussing how these empirical results may be informative for related bioethical and philosophical debates.