Dissertation Abstract

My dissertation, Moral Pathology, explores the relationship between morality and mental illness. I focus on four conditions: psychopathy, substance use disorder (addiction), autism spectrum disorder, and borderline personality disorder.These conditions are often characterized by deficits in emotional functioning. I argue that these emotional deficits excuse or exempt individuals with these conditions from moral responsibility. Moreover, these conditions accentuate the role of emotions in morality.

Areas of Interest


My research in compassion ranges from psychopaths to parochialism, autism to altruism, and inspired most of my dissertation. While many find the idea that compassion (or empathy) is conducive to morality, contemporary philosophers and psychologists (e.g. Bloom, Harris) have introduced compelling evidence to the contrary. In my essays with Daryl Cameron we seek to address these concerns. In my work on psychopathy and autism I use this foundation to discuss morality in mental illness.



  • "'How did you feel the last time you squashed a bug?' Empathy, Moral Responsibility, and Psychopathy."

    • ​International Society for Research on Emotions, St. Louis MO, July 2017

    • 3rd Global Meeting of the Empathy Project, Mansfield College, Oxford, July 2016.

  • "Compassion, Moral Responsibility, and the High-Functioning Psychopath." Society for Philosophy and Psychology Annual Meeting, University of Texas at Austin, June 2016.

  • "A Tale of Two Empathies: Lessons in Morality from Clinical Populations." Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress, University of Colorado Boulder, August 2015.

  • "Reviving Empathy: Cultivating Moral Salience." International Society for Research on Emotions, University of Geneva, July 2015.

  • "Why Empathy (Still) Matters." Society for Philosophy and Psychology, University of British Columbia, June 2014.

  • "An Empirical Defense of the Power of Altruistic Emotions in Moral Motivation." Graduate Conference in Philosophy of Mind, Language, and Cognitive Science, University of Western Ontario, May 2013.


     Substance Use Disorder

My research on substance use disorder (addiction) was inspired by observing adolescent support groups and a treatment facility. I argue that individuals with substance use disorder are exempt from moral responsibility due to deficits in emotion regulation.


  • "'Checking Out' of Moral Responsibility: Impairment in Emotion Regulation and Substance Use Disorder." Society for Philosophy and Psychology, Annual Meeting, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, July 2018

    Borderline Personality Disorder

My research on borderline separates individuals who meet full criteria for the disorder, individuals with symptoms, and individuals in recovery. While I discuss excusing and exempting conditions for individuals in the first two categories, I propose a new designation for individuals in recovery: moral superheroes. These individuals go above and beyond the actions of typical moral agents to offer meaningful contributions to the moral community.


  • "Borderline Personality Disorder: The Moral Superheroes Normative Ethics Needs." Philosophy Department Colloquium Series, October 2018 (References)

    • Workshop in Politics, Ethics, and Society, Washington University in St. Louis, September 2018

    • Works in Progress Weekly Seminar, Washington University in St. Louis, March 2018

*The compassion publications and many presentations were conducted under my former name, Katie Rapier




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katieharster (at) gmail (dot) com

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