Are Psychopaths Evil?

I often hear remarks along the lines of “psychopaths are bad people” or “psychopaths are evil”.  But, I wonder if this is entirely true.  I will admit, the concepts of good and evil escape me.  I believe that everyone can be deviltouched under the right circumstances and I believe that altruism does not exist outside of a societally mandated context. Likewise, I believe that even the coldest of hearts can do good.  Whether good or evil is all about opportunity and need.  So then, are psychopaths universally “bad”?  Is even an individual psychopath guaranteed to be “evil”?  I don’t necessarily believe so, because everyone is subject to desires of morality or immorality and the antisocial is not unique with her bad behavior.

Do not misunderstand me.  It is evident that psychopaths are more prone to antisocial behavior than the general population.  However, I am not convinced that the callous nature of the psychopath equates to evil.  To understand this concept further, we must define good and evil.  I consider ‘good’ a synonym for ‘prosocial’ and ‘evil’ a synonym for ‘antisocial’.  That is, only actions can be good or evil because a person without action is neither prosocial nor antisocial.  Thus, good and evil are purely dependent on action, not alignment.

So if good and evil are only congruent to actions, then is anyone truly good or evil?  The neurotypical may be less likely to commit violent crime than the psychopath, but the neurotypical still can find ways to be antisocial – usually in the name of bigotry rather than pure opportunity.  The psychopath, on the other hand, is a pure creature of opportunity.  Prosocial actions are performed when warranted and beneficial, just as antisocial actions are.  The nature of selfishness dictates that the psychopath merely picks the tool that best fits the job.  Yes, some psychopaths may give into bloodlust and chaos, but, in general, psychopathy is pure gamesmanship.  Nothing is personal; actions are merely a means to an end.

If antisocial actions are impersonal (usually) and a result of a gamesmanship and alignment is a direct result of action, then can anyone truly be evil?  More interestingly, does this imply that everyone is evil?  To label the psychopath as pure evil is to misunderstand the processes that underlie the psychopath’s thought process.  To point fingers at others is to avoid inspecting one’s own antisocial deeds: past, present, and future.

Ultimately either there is no such thing as evil or we all, neurotypical or psychopath, are evil.  The alternative is a logical fallacy.  Evil can only be defined by action.  The neurotypical who discriminates against someone of a different ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion is just as guilty of immoral behavior and deed as the antisocial.  People like me are merely more honest with this deceit.

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  1. says

    “It is evident that psychopaths are more prone to antisocial behavior than the general population.” I thought that anti-social behaviour was pretty much required for a diagnosis. Now, I’m too tired and lazy to check the PCL-R, but is it possible to make the /diagnostic cutoff/ of 30 without ticking any antisocial behaviours?

    Could just be another case of social stigma teaching me things wrong.

    • FNP says

      It’s possible to get a 34 without any antisocial behavior, but it really would depend on how you define that behavior. That 34 is doable with a 0 in all the directly criminal things and the early behavior problems.

  2. NT says

    Straightforward answer is “No”. There is no such thing as good or evil. Only neural networks that play less or more nicely with the neural networks they encounter.

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