Failed Agency and the Insanity Defence

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 27:413-424 (2004)
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In this article I argue that insanity defences such as M’Nagten should be abolished in favour of a defence of failed agency. It is not insanity per se, or any other empirical condition, which constitutes the moral reason for exculpation. Rather, we should first recognize the conditions for being a responsible moral agent. These include some capacity to direct and control one’s behavior, a non-delusional component, and the capacity to recognize that one’s behavior is expressive of what they have reason to be doing. When either of these fail in a case involving alleged criminal behavior the defence of failed agency may be appealed to. There may be many causes, including and besides insanity, that give rise to use of the defence of failed agency.



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Steve Matthews
Australian Catholic University

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