Of Psychopaths & Replicants

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Seeing Jon Ronson’s interview on The Daily Show got me thinking about psychopaths. I did not buy his book on psychopaths, so I will not comment on it. Rather, I’ll say a bit about spotting psychopaths from a philosophical perspective.

First, a bit about psychopaths. According to the standard view, a psychopath has a deficit (or deviance) in regards to interpersonal relationships, emotions, and self control.

In terms of specific qualities  psychopaths lack, these include shame, guilt, remorse and empathy. These qualities tend to lead  psychopaths to rationalize, deny, or shift the blame for the harm done to others. Because of a lack of empathy, psychopaths are prone to act in ways that are tactless, lacking in sensitivity, and express contempt for others.

Psychopaths are supposed to behave in ways that are impulsive and irresponsible. This might be because they are taken to fail to properly grasp the potential consequences of their actions. This seems to be a  general defect in that it applies to the consequences for others as well as for themselves This reduced ability to properly assess the risks of being doubted, caught, or punished no doubt has a significant impact on their behavior (and their chances of being exposed).

Robert Hare, who developed the famous Hare Psychopathy Checklist, regards psychopaths as  predators that prey on  their own species: “lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse.”

Given these behavior traits, it might be wondered how psychopaths are able to avoid detection long enough to actually engage in such behavior. After all, people tend to be on guard against such treatment.The answer is easy enough. First, psychopaths often seem charming. Since they seem to tend to lack a commitment to truth, they are willing and able to say whatever they believe will achieve their goals. Second, they are often adept at using intimidation and manipulation to get what they want. Third, they are often skilled mimics and are able to pass themselves off as normal people.

It is estimated that 1% of the general population is made up of psychopaths. The prison populations are supposed to contain a larger percentage (which would hardly be surprising) and the corporate world is supposed to have an above normal percentage of psychopaths. However, these numbers are not solidly established.

One obvious problem facing anyone attempting to determine the number of psychopaths is that they will tend to do their best to hide their true nature. After all, the intelligent psychopaths will generally get that they are not like other people and that normal people will tend to react negatively to them. The same holds true in attempts to determine whether or not a specific person is a psychopath or not. In many ways, the psychopath is like Glaucon’s unjust man in the Ring of Gyges story: he is a person who wants to do what he wants without regard to others, but needs to avoid being recognized for what he is.

As noted above, psychopaths are characterized as possessing traits that would tend to result in their exposure. As noted above, psychopaths are characterized by having poor impulse control, having difficulty with behaving responsibly, and a poor capacity for assessing consequences. Their deficiency in regard to empathy also probably  makes it more difficult for them to blend in properly.These could be called “exposure traits” in that they tend to expose the psychopath to others.

One rather interesting point to consider is whether or not these exposure traits are actually traits that are essential components of being a psychopath. After all, they might merely be traits possessed by the psychopaths that have been exposed. To advance this discussion, I will head into the territory of science fiction.

In science fiction, one interesting problem is the thing problem. This problem gets its name from Carpenter’s classic horror film The Thing (which is based on “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell). The thing is an inimical alien that can almost flawlessly imitate any living thing it has consumed. In the case of the movie, the humans had to sort out who goes there: a human or a thing. In the case of psychopaths, the challenge is to distinguish between normal humans and psychopaths. In the movie, a test is devised: each part of a thing is its own creature and will try to survive, even if that means exposure of another thing. So, sticking a hot wire into a blood (or thing juice) sample will reveal whether the person is human or thing: if the “blood” squeals and tries to escape, the donor is a thing.

This test will, of course, expose any thing. Or, more accurately, expose any  thing that acts as expected. If a thing was, contrary to the way things are supposed to be,  able to suppress the survival response of one of its parts, it would pass the test and remain undetected. As such, any exposed thing would be a thing that could not do this, and this would lead the humans to believe that things cannot do this. At least until the things that could do this  finished them off.

If you prefer machines or replicants to things, this situation can also be presented in terms borrowed from Phillip K. Dick’s works. In Blade Runner (based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) there are replicants that can easily pass for humans, with one exception: they cannot pass the Voight-Kampff Test because they do not have the time to develop the responses of a normal human. The similarity of the Hare checklist is obvious. Of course, the test only works on replicants that cannot mimic humans enough to pass the test. A replicant that could give the right responses would, of course,  pass as human.

Dick’s short story “Second Variety” also presented human-like machines, the claws. These machines were made for a world war and eventually broke free of human control, developing machines that could pass as humans (as our smart phones will do  someday). Unlike the replicants, the claws were always intent on killing humans-thus necessitating a means to tell them apart.  The early models were easily recognized as being non-humans. Unfortunately for the humans in the story, the only way they could tell the most advanced models  from humans was by seeing multiple claws of the same variety together. Otherwise, they easily passed as humans right up until the point they started killing.

It seems worth considering that the same might apply to psychopaths. To be specific, normal people can catch the psychopaths that are poor mimics, have poor impulse control, have difficulty with behaving responsibly, and  possess a poor capacity for assessing consequences. However, the psychopaths that are better mimics, have better impulse control, can seem to act responsibly, and can assess consequences would be far more difficult to spot. Such psychopaths could easily pass as normal humans, much like Glaucon’s unjust man is able to conceal his true nature.  As such, perhaps the experts think that these specific traits are part of what it is to be a psychopath because these traits are possessed by the psychopaths they have caught. However, as with the more advanced claws, perhaps the most dangerous psychopaths are eluding detection. At least until it is too late.

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35 Comments.

  1. It is difficult to talk about a syndrome at any level of generality, so anything interesting we say about this will necessarily be false. With that caveat in mind…

    It is not quite right to say that psychopaths lack empathy (meaning, the ability to guess the mental-states of others). Quite the opposite: they may very well be expert empathizers. e.g., children with psychopathic traits tend to score above average on empathy tests. That’s why they’re sometimes able to blend in effectively. Arguably, the difference is that psychopaths lack an instinctive sense of sympathy. In other words, roughly speaking, they know how others feel, but don’t care.

  2. michael reidy

    These qualities tend to lead psychopaths to rationalize, deny, or shift the blame for the harm done to others. Because of a lack of empathy, psychopaths are prone to act in ways that are tactless, lacking in sensitivity, and express contempt for others.

    No need to get personal Mike. Are psychopaths out there on the edge while the rest of us huddle around the middle only occasionally visiting Psychoville but never putting down roots? The true psychopath is not amenable to examination of conscience and can only function as an adaptation because the rest of us, the general population, are. We ought then to have an objective stance towards their charm because sooner or later they will use that to manipulate us. Anyone who has lived in the world will have encountered people who manage to live quite nicely without ethics. The strange sensation of distance ensues when we begin to realise this, it is as though they were in another room and one were watching them through a oneway mirror. That in itself is to be infected by the psycho mind and one might speculate whether that tendency is amplified by a parent with the same malaise. I blame the parents.

  3. @ Michael Reidy

    While there may be a case for blaming poor parenting as a source of anti-social behaviou, there are also cases documented by Dr. Hervey Clecky in “The Mask of Sanity”, (a classic in the field) of children raised in loving, well-off families who still evidenced psychopathic behaviour. In his day it was called “moral degeneracy”.

    There is an excellent book by a Polish researcher called Political Ponerology (www.ponerology.com) which was a secret study undertaken by clinical psychologists in Poland during the Stalinist era. No lack of subjects for study then. When the traits of psychopathy come to define a social system, those possessing such personality traits come out of the woodwork to fill positions of power. His book postulates some of the reasons for the existence of psychopathy, including genetic inheritance. He speculates that the survival of such socially maladaptive traits in the population depend on the mimicry Ronson describes. The author also notes that pyschopaths are able to recognize each other, banding together in groups for mutual gain, yet betraying each other without a thought, if one deems another as no longer useful, or if it will enhance the power of the eliminator. This pattern can be traced in any totalitarian regime. It’s an excellent book if you want to study the subject more in depth, along with Robert Hare’s “Without Conscience” and “Snakes in Suits”.

    How psychopaths warp personal relationships is well-documented by Sandra Brown in “Women Who Love Psychopaths”. She charts not only the ploys used by such creatures, but the personality types particularly vulnerable to them. The surprising part is that these are not weak, vulnerable men or women, but those with high empathy, and the heart to stick through difficult situations. Again a highly recommended book.

    Education about this small (6%), but so destructive segment of the human population is one of the crucial needs of society. The psychopaths who have managed to worm their way into the corridors of government and corporate power are destroying everything that is good in the world.

  4. michael reidy

    Sariade:
    Thank you very much for your note on the extensive literature. You mention the figure of 6% that exhibit the trait in a marked way. I have read 4% but clearly this type is not taking tests. In any case the lower figure is still a lot particularly in large organisations where they can gravitate to positions of power and their style of interaction can become the norm. If as the old wisdom traditions had it satsang (company of the truth seekers) is important as an aid to personal committment then the opposite will also be the case and the ‘asatsang’ is the increment of association for evil doers. One sees it in political life, in literature and religion. There is such a thing as tradition. Great figures in these areas come in groups and that gives the lie to the Romantic idea of the lone, autopoetic, genius.

    Apart from resolute idiocy one can see that the Bush years brought out and naturalized evil and transmitted it to the succeeding administration that is to an extent now trying to cast out the demons. I am speaking metaphorically, am I?

  5. I believe Sariade meant to suggest that psychopaths make up 0.6% of the general population not 6%. As one might expect, these reckless individuals, are known to make up a much higher percentage of those in prison, investment banking and the stock market.

    Of course, if the psychopathic lack of conscience and regard for others can, as we are invited to imagine, exist without the ‘exposure traits’ the true figures might be much higher again. Moral mimics quite incapable of shame, remorse or any depth of feeling for others, one imagines they do not ‘worm’ their way into the corridors of corporate power but infest them – that is exactly where they have banded together for mutual gain. Of course they must have some ‘tell’ by which they identify each other – some weighty badly-written novel perhaps?

  6. michael reidy

    Curious:
    Hare whom Ronson quotes in today’s Guardian offers the figure of 1% for psychopaths. I have read that the rate varies for countries. In some places it might be considered an adaptive trait. In the US I read that the rate is 4% and rising and a high Hare score is a predictor of business success. Given that family life there is quite fractured together with a world beating prison population acquired psychopathology seems a likely outcome. Louis Theroux latest adventures with dangerous people in a Miami prison has a trailer (from memory)
    L.T. : Do you mean to say that you would beat me up? I’m a harmless person.
    Convict: Yea I’d have to beat you up, that’s the code.

    Would that be deonotological?

  7. Michael,

    1% is an oft quoted estimate of the North American incidence of psychopaths made by Hare. When Sariade mentioned 6% I assumed what was meant was the figure of 0.6% found in a recent study. The relevant paper is titled “Prevalence and correlates of psychopathic traits in the household population of Great Britain” so perhaps the UK has fewer psychopaths – or better mimics – than the Americans by that margin? I had assumed your mention of 4% was a reference to some higher rate estimated for psychopaths at the high end of certain professions – the ‘snakes in suits’ as it were – but I haven’t come across any figures for that myself, nor any suggestion that 4% is a better estimate of the prevalence of the psychopathic condition in the population in the USA than Hare’s.

    The US does indeed have a ‘world-beating’ prison system – with more than 1% of its population behind bars and a system that is much harsher than that of the UK. Still, I am not initially inclined towards the belief that psychopathy is significantly more prevalent in the USA than it is in the UK or other Western nations. Reading Cleckley’s ‘Mask of Sanity’ and other pieces online I have become somewhat inclined to think of psychopaths as being born that way. Whether it is plausible to suggest there is a greater prevalence of antisocial personality disorder and sociopathy (as it is distinguished from psychopathy by the likes of David Lykken) in the USA, these being conditions acknowledged to have clearer environmental or sociological causes than psychopathy, I couldn’t possibly comment.

  8. michael reidy

    Curious:
    We may be at cross purposes here with the figures varying from the pure congenital psychopath which appears to be what Hare recognises as the paradigm case and the ASPD (anti social personality disorder) individual who may have developed some of the traits which would be the greater figure. I don’t intend to squabble about that however the interesting thing from a philosophical point of view is the extent to which we can program the neural pathways ourselves and move from pure rote response to considered action. That considered action which is consistently chosen then becomes second nature.

    The Phineas Gage case shows that lesion injury can alter behaviour for the worst. However some claim that in later life Gage was able to revert to his earlier upright behaviour. He had a memory that he could aspire to and thus reprogram the neural pathways and become more like his old self. In the same way stroke victims with loss of language can to some extent move that brain activity to another area.

  9. Michael,

    I had in mind the narrower range of cases yes. And it is unclear that the ‘pure’ psychopath is susceptible to reprogramming. Unlike those with ASPD and sociopathic tendencies there seems no therapeutic means available to get the congenital psychopath to move from impulsive self-destructive and antisocial responses to considered actions that are more prudent and ‘pro-social’. There is no cognitive failure on their part and it seems the neural mechanisms necessary for the right emotional responses just are not there.

    The details of the Phineas Gage case are uncertain. It does seem useful to compare congenital psychopaths with patients who have suffered brain injury to areas of the frontal lobe and I gather researchers are doing exactly that. I am unqualified to speculate whether the brain activity associated with the emotional functions required for a moral sense can reappear in another area if lost to brain damage. Implanting a conscience in a psychopath seems the stuff of science fiction but perhaps it will become a routine procedure one day. I suspect there’s more money to be made removing the capacity for guilt and remorse than facilitating it though.

    On a related note, I did come across a vaguely familiar piece titled “Damage to brain limits empathy – prefrontal cortex injury found to alter moral judgment”. This reported as follows: “Asked to resolve hypothetical dilemmas — such as tossing a person from a bridge into the path of a trolley to save five others — people with damage to their ventromedial prefrontal cortex tended to sacrifice one life to save many”.

    Watch out for the consequentialists.

  10. This is a subject of which I have but little technical knowledge. How ever it occurs to me that if as it is said generally, psychopaths exhibit Glibness, Pathological lying, Cunning and manipulation, Lack of remorse or guilt. Then how many of them is it estimated, escape detection by manipulating their replies to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, and perhaps, other similar associated tests?

  11. Dennis Sceviour

    “Psychopath” is word of recent origin, perhaps tracing no further back than 1941. It was not a medical term recognized by psychiatry. The word cannot be found in traditional legal theories. The term was created by psychologists trying to classify abnormal behaviour. Some studies have suggested that the study of abnormal behaviour is of little use, since there is no agreement on what is normal behaviour. The definition for normal behaviour changes with cultural conditioning. For example, the desire to torture is considered abnormal by some cultures, but still considered proper in other cultures.

    The word “psychopath” dangers future dialogue and commentary be infected with another word worthy of censorship. There can be no future use for the word in philosophy, except as ill-informed profanity and slander for the biased and the bigoted.

  12. michael reidy

    Curious:
    Consequetialism has been behind the justification of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, torture, terrorism and all manner of mayhem aimed at a greater future for us all. The worst of it is that there are always unforeseen consequences. If I throw the fat man, drone, idle member of the bloodsucking class over the parapet I have taken the future into my own hands, I command it, and that is infinitely more satisfactory than the deaths of idiots who were playing on the railway tracks. By a similar consequetialism that man might have been on the verge of a cure for cancer. Better leave it out alltogether and adopt a rule.

    If the congenital psychopath is missing vital bits of the brain, if you will pardon the technical language, then he will never have had the memory of rightousness unlike the Phineas Gage case taking it as true for the sake of argument. In that case the psychopaths recalcitrance is perfectly intelligible and one is tempted to keep a stock of them in hand for trolley purposes.

  13. “In that case the psychopaths recalcitrance is perfectly intelligible and one is tempted to keep a stock of them in hand for trolley purposes.”
    Tempted and does, Is I suggest nearer the truth.

  14. Dennis,

    The term ‘psychopath’ is found as far back as 1885 as a back formation from ‘psychopathic’ which can be dated to 1847 (and came from its Greek roots via the German ‘psychopatisch’). Still, the year 1941 is significant in that it marked the publication of Cleckley’s influential ‘Mask of Sanity’.

    Psychiatrists have indeed been concerned with those who do not conform to socially or morally ‘normal’ behaviour in the past – homosexual men and pregnant unmarried girls have suffered at the hands of psychiatry in the past. But Cleckley, along with other psychiatrists, was not concerned simply ‘to classify abnormal behaviour’ – he was concerned with a frequently encountered personality type whose behaviour patterns were personally disastrous and the cause of serious harm to others.

    Such individuals were frequent visitors to psychiatric institutions because they were often able to persuade courts they were insane in order to evade prison (and their actions were often consistent with an unsound mind) but they were then able to get out of said institutions by proving their sanity to psychiatrists or another court. And because such individuals were classed as ‘sane and competent’ when it was in the interests of said individuals to be so classed, the measures used to protect other psychiatric patients, their families and the community could not be applied to bring such individuals under treatment or restriction, even when they showed themselves dangerously disordered.

    Cleckley thought it important that law and medicine recognized this was a problem. He recognized that such personality types – however they are best described – “present a problem which must be better understood by lawyers, social workers, schoolteachers, and by the general public if any satisfactory way of dealing with them is to be worked out.” You needn’t have a dogmatic conception of ‘normal’ to agree.

    If you feel the word ‘psychopath’ unfairly stigmatizes persons who, through no fault of their own, have a personality type that is socially problematic it seems a reasonable case can be made out for avoiding that terminology. Still, I don’t believe that adopting the view, held by some psychiatrists, that the word can still serve a useful purpose proves you are an ill-informed bigot.

  15. michael reidy

    I’ve just been listening to David Eagleman the neuro-scientist talking on a Philosophy Bites pod cast and his view would be that we are all ‘victims’ of our brains for good or ill. It’s the classical determinist view. Of course not many of us end up in Broadmoor or running a country with an iron hand but still the thought occurs that a brain scan should be part of the prison system induction process. If found to have the psychopathic brain, there is nothing to do merely detain them, bad cases of ASPD could have the Alex treatment (from A Clockwork Orange)

    On the other hand the view of Henri Bergson is that the brain is not the source of memory but that memory acts upon the brain. In lesion cases those centres in the brain which evoke action cannot be activated and normal behaviour goes awry. It’s all there in Matter and Memory together with an examination of the very extensive lesion literature.

  16. michael reidy

    Don:
    re use of psychopaths in trolley cases:
    I was thinking of the pitching of the psychopath in front of the trolley (two if thin) rather than the psycho as agent which I will grant you is a more ‘real-world’ application. In the anthropological literature the Inuit deal with psychos by pushing them off an ice floe when no one is looking.

    In a 1976 study anthropologist Jane M. Murphy, then at Harvard University, found that an isolated group of Yupik-speaking Inuits near the Bering Strait had a term (kunlangeta) they used to describe “a man who … repeatedly lies and cheats and steals things and … takes sexual advantage of many women—someone who does not pay attention to reprimands and who is always being brought to the elders for punishment.” When Murphy asked an Inuit what the group would typically do with a kunlangeta, he replied, “Somebody would have pushed him off the ice when nobody else was looking.”

  17. Michael,

    I don’t think I’m being personal-that is the stock description of psychopaths. Psychopaths probably could be described as living in territory that most of us only see from afar or (on a rare occasion) pass through.

  18. Well, then perhaps a new word is in order to describe those behavior traits.

  19. Michael:
    I love the Inuit remedy for psychopaths. I note your reference to David Eagleman. I have just finished his latest book “Incognito”. Not bad he makes some good points here and there. He seems to support what you have called a deterministic viewpoint, but then goes to some length to show reductionism is misleading and not the right viewpoint for everything. He then invokes that vague expression Emergence which for me just means I can’t explain further it just happens, as if by magic. A similar word again for me is Epiphenomenon. Neither of these words explain anything. He says, page 218. “while minds depend on the integrity of neurons, neurons are not themselves thinking” If he is going to hold then that thought/mind is emergent, (well it is in a certain sense sense, much the same that Motion is emergent from the function of the various parts of a motor car) that to my mind is no explanation; How is it emergent? All of which I suppose brings us back to the hard problem of Consciousness.

  20. Michael,

    Further to earlier talk of snakes, suits and statistics I find Jon Ronson is reported to have said that 4% of “corporate chiefs” are psychopaths. A conservative estimate methinks.

    Members of the Inuit minority are actively encouraged to apply for regulatory positions governing corporate responsibility.

  21. michael reidy

    Don Bird:
    Neurons aren’t thinking. True but that’s not to say they are not reflecting mind. Chalmers and Clark have been talking about the notion of extended mind in the sense that my ipad is minded, is a prosthetic extension of my brain/mind. Philosophy is full of surprises, who would have thought that panpsychism would be discussed again even twenty years ago.

    Curious:
    C.E.O. : You all know what you have to do, get to it.
    Mutterer: Yes, get you on that floe chart for immediate despatch.

    Sorry about that, won’t happen again.

  22. Re Michael Reidy.

    I remember when at university attending a lecture on the extension of our cognitive abilities to diaries, notes, and electronic contrivances. The lecturer who was sympathetic with the concept argued something as follows “that it is arbitrary to say that the mind is contained only within the boundaries of the skull. The separation between the mind, the body, and the environment is seen as an unprincipled distinction. Because external objects play a significant role in aiding cognitive processes, the mind and the environment act as a “coupled system”. This coupled system can be seen as a complete cognitive system of its own. In this manner, the mind is extended into the external world. The main criterion that Clark and Chalmers list for classifying the use of external objects during cognitive tasks as a part of an extended cognitive system is that the external objects must function with the same purpose as the internal processes. “ This bit I cribbed from Wiki, being too idle to compose it. I told the lecturer that in view of what he had said I accordingly now intended to take all my written notes and similar material into the finals exam with me not wanting to attend with an incomplete cognitive system. He did not seem keen on the idea which he had up until then, been proposing so adamantly, and muttered something about my exclusion and so on. I was not then really persuaded by the Chalmers and Clark paper and am still of the same opinion.
    I cannot remember ever having to work with an out and out Psychopath one or two came near in some respects. My worst experiences on more than one occasion was working with those afflicted by paranoia. Notwithstanding the best intentions in the world one always felt completely distrusted, and somewhat paradoxically efforts were made at times to co opt one into their schemes based on fear and suspicion. Most difficult people, I found them.

  23. A dire warning indeed: Beware of the Consequentialist!

    I almost feel like a just drove past the baptist section of the strip mall. Watch out for the consequentialist. Yes, James (a.k.a Curious) a statement indeed backed by deep philosophical pondering. I think you might be on someones refrigerator now. Oops! I forgot about the obvious rule that tells us that such care, being ware of consequentialists, is an obvious deontological truth dictated by the Abrahamic faiths. Who needs careful consideration and rational contemplation about consequence when intuitions are so manifestly potent as this?

    And, Michael, it is of course obvious that any justification for Hiroshima is nonsense. For it was written on the Stone Tablet well before 1945: Thou shalt not drop atom bombs! Or was it though shalt not kill? Ooo, wait, though shalt not murder? I’m getting a bit blurry. Nanking, Nagasaki, too… ah, my blood pressure is dropping! I better not act in such a state of confusion. Better safe than sorry: Thou shalt not kill. And, foremost, remember: Beware of people like myself! You never know where heuristics based on empirical knowledge might lead you…

  24. Andreas,

    I apologize unreservedly to all members of the Consequentialist faith who have been offended by my insensitive comments.

  25. No worries, James. After all, it was a rather inconsequential remark. My congregation can be rather forgiving…

  26. Well Andreas I’ve always found you to be a forward-looking bunch…

    Of course not all consequentialists would push the fat man off the bridge. There are different things you can count, the consequences of adopting a rule for example, and different ways you can count it. And, strictly I never actually claimed those who would sacrifice the fat man to save the five would be wrong to do so (prefrontal cortex injury might alter your moral judgment for the better). Many of those who enjoy the certitude that its wrong to sacrifice the fat man for the five will feel less certain at some point… what if its 50 men who can be saved, 500, 5000 or 5 million? (The trolley will hit a nuclear bomb further down the line or something.)

    Still, fat men on bridges might want to watch out…

  27. Re Curious May 25th.

    What you say here is basically outlines why I do not adhere to any particular religious or moral code. There are only degrees of similarity between different events. Every difference makes a difference and codes of behaviour cannot possibly cover all contingencies. I seem accordingly, to do what appears, on the information before me, to be for the best, concerning the state of affairs in hand. Some judgements I have made have been deontological i.e. Kantian, others of a consequential nature. The only moral code which makes any sense to me is Virtue ethics which will for instance support my decision to lie or truth tell, depending on all the circumstances, and the outcome of what I eventually did. This seems to acknowledge that wisdom is a vital part of decision making.
    Again making a decision often takes time, and I am not a precipitate person so the fat man on the bridge with me is most probably safe, if quick decisions are to be made. However if I am given sufficient time to think, it would be best for him if he steers clear of me.

  28. Dennis Sceviour

    “After a railway accident it (common sense) clamours for the severe punishment of unintentional neglects, which, except for their consequences, would have been regarded as very venial (Henry Sidgwick.)” No matter what the outcome of the trolley event, somebody is going to be blamed for negligence, and that could be any surviving person near the bridge at the time. There have been some recent changes in retributive theory in that it focuses blame on a public authoritative figure, but the ancient premises of how the law works still make the fate of the fat man ultimately moot. Whether the decision to kill the fat would be intrinsic, egoist or altruistic does not assist in satisfying the public clamour for someone to blame. Perhaps it would be best to steer clear of the bridge.

  29. Mike, Is it suggested that a person leaves a diagnosed psychopath “incognito”? I am planning to divorce one with whom I have had six children. The youngest is 14 and my husband refuses to talk about divorce. I
    realize that he has no plans of “letting me go” Life with him
    has been crazy making. He now is involved in some shady business deal and I want out. How does a woman divorce and leave without a trace with an minor child? He has
    threatened my life more than once.

  30. Re Linda Smith June 12th

    I am not sure you are in the right place for marital advice. There are those better qualified to give you the best answers, to what you want to know. I suggest you seek them out as soon as possible. If the man is a bad as you say, how come you have six children by him, a diagnosed psychopath, in something over apparently, twenty years of marriage?

  31. 水珠 « 嘀咕 - pingback on June 14, 2011 at 11:31 pm
  32. I met a psycho online recently and it was chilling as he revealed himself through some prodding. All the traits described here could be said of him, and when I called him on it, he quickly used it against me. It was a disturbing experience and makes me worry for the fact that there are as many as 1 out of a hundred people with this sort of mental imbalance. You’d think that’s not very high, but in a crowded movie theater you’d have one or two on average. In an group of 500 Facebook friends, you’d have 5 on average. That is seriously disturbing, especially after you’ve confronted one and recognize them for what they are.

  33. Very interesting write up. A couple comments:

    In her great book Evil Genes, Barbara Oakley has some very useful terminology. She says that the psychopaths and other empathy-disordered people who get caught are the unsuccessful ones. She calls the ones who don’t get caught the “successfully sinister.”

    Also, it was right at the time I was writing my huge page on psychopathy that I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It was amazing timing, so relevant and a brilliant story. Great that you brought it up and thanks for mentioning a couple other related stories I didn’t know about.

  34. Psychopathy ST,

    Oakley does have a good point. Glaucon, in Plato’s Republic, raises a similar point in the discussion of the unjust man. As he notes, a person who gets caught would be a poor craftsman in this regard. When I teach this bit of the Republic, I tell my students they should be a bit worried about the evil stupid who make it evident they are evil, but they should worry most about the evil geniuses who appear good.

  35. I completely agree Mike. I also think Primo Levi’s famous quote, which I feature on my quotes page, adds one more crucial layer.

    “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

    We often focus on the psychopaths and empathy-disordered themselves. But what really gives them the power to do massive harm is the even larger group of people susceptible to being hijacked by them.

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