Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

M.A. in Philosophy

First Advisor

Neil Manson

Second Advisor

Deborah Mower


University of Mississippi

Relational Format



There is a longstanding discussion of what the criteria are to distinguish science from non-science. In section one of this paper, I will focus on four demarcating criteria of a scientific theory: (1) value neutrality; (2) verifiability; (3) falsifiability; and (4) reproducibility. Keeping these criteria in mind, I will turn to the notion of moral agency (focusing on psychopathy, autism, and personal identity) and the question of whether the current way we conceptualize and research it can be deemed as scientific according to the four criteria.

In section two, I will discuss the role psychopathy and autism play in understanding moral agency. It is a popular view that the best way to find the underpinning of normally developed moral agency is to look to two groups diagnosed with deficiencies in rational and affective capacities; psychopathic and autistic individuals. Further, by looking at these three arguments, it is clear that most theorists misunderstand Hume’s theory in that they see it as strictly sentiment-driven when, in fact, he argued for a mixed account involving both rationality and sentiment.

In section three, I will discuss personal identity and how it is intertwined with moral agency. There are many theories of personal identity that attempt to answer the metaphysical questions about its nature. This section will not focus on this aspect of personal identity, but rather on the idea that personality is externally shaped through judgements of moral behaviors. I will argue that moral motivation is not only correlated with personal identity, but also guides our intuitions and judgements of it. There are a few theories I will focus on that, when looked at as pieces of a whole, seem to support the notion that personal identity, and our conceptualization of it, is rooted in our perception of morality.

In the fourth and final section of this paper I discuss whether the conception of moral agency as studied through psychopathy, autism, and personal identity is scientific regarding the four criteria specified in section one. After reflecting on each of the criteria, I conclude that moral agency can be considered scientific.



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