Culture Moral Agency

In my professional

life, I spend all day every day reading psychological evaluations. Yesterday I ran across a line in a report that really struck me:

Just because he has a disorder does not mean that he cannot engage in some behavior on purpose.

I think that MUCH of the time people (and psychologists, who should know better) talk as if a psychological disorder somehow completely prevents a person from exercising moral agency.

Well, it doesn’t. Not typically. Maybe the more severe a condition is the less moral agency is in play–OK, I can buy that–but to say that the presence of a disorder means that the person can exert no moral agency at all is bull crap!

A good psychologist has to tease apart that which is a choice and that which is a mere reflex.

Denying moral agency also means that there is no way to “decide” to change and get better. Denying moral agency may lead to one feeling “better” and “justified” in the very short term, but it is a damning straight-jacket that actually prevents people from changing and getting better.

There is simply no way to believe in change without also believing in moral agency.