Seeing Beyond ‘Evil’

Dr EvilKate Kelland reports on Reuters via MNN:

Simon Baron Cohen has been battling with evil all his life. As a scientist seeking to understand random acts of violence, from street brawls to psychopathic killings to genocide, he has puzzled for decades over what prompts such acts of human cruelty. And he’s decided that evil is not good enough.

“I’m not satisfied with the term ‘evil’,” says the Cambridge University psychology and psychiatry professor, one of the world’s top experts in autism and developmental psychopathology.

“We’ve inherited this word … and we use it to express our abhorrence when people do awful things, usually acts of cruelty, but I don’t think it’s anything more than another word for doing something bad. And as a scientist that doesn’t seem to me to be much of an explanation. So I’ve been looking for an alternative — we need a new theory of human cruelty.”

Baron Cohen, who is also director of the Autism Research Center at Cambridge, has just written a book in which he calls for a kind of rebranding of evil to offer a more scientific explanation for why people kill and torture, or have such great difficulty understanding the feelings of others.

His proposal is that evil be understood as a lack of empathy — a condition he argues can be measured and monitored and is susceptible to education and treatment.

For more information, see original article.

, , , , , , , ,

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    to be fair, is there really any reason to be redefining terms here? Cant we just say the science of evil actions or something? Theres no reason to fracture the language any more than it already is.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    to be fair, is there really any reason to be redefining terms here? Cant we just say the science of evil actions or something? Theres no reason to fracture the language any more than it already is.

    • superfluous

      seems like he wants a term based on what can be measured in the brain, rather than something based on the quality of actions.

      • Larchoye

        well certainly “Evil” is determined subjectively, most often via an outside observer, is it not?

        • superfluous

          ….

          yes, it seems that way to me, too.

    • razzlebathbone

      I think there’s a popular perception that “evil” is an intrinsic trait that some people just have. Something that can’t change. Perhaps by applying a name that suggests a treatable condition, we can see it in a different light. I’m not convinced, but I guess it might be worth a shot.

      • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

        good answer. I guess this just brings up the debate of innate evil or not. Personally i have no idea whether you can scare the evil outta someone or if it is to the core.

      • Larchoye

        Does “evil” exist outside of the human psyche? (Not considering the possibility of evil aliens for just a moment..)

        I’m kind of gonna go ahead and say that there’s no such thing as evil… Unforgivable, unconscionable, etc… “Evil” implies there could never be any outcome that was in any way good- as the result of some deed… But generally just the *AWARENESS* of some horrible act, can serve to prevent it from happening further…

        • superfluous

          if by awareness you also mean labeling that act as “evil”, then i agree. the same seems to be the case with “abuse”/”unfair”, “boring”/”waste of time”, and several other labels. (or maybe you meant something completely different.)

          does lack of empathy in itself constitute a problem, or only if ppl with it commit acts deemed evil? and do you scientifically know if lack of empathy was the only/significant factor involved in an “evil” act without measuring the brain of someone, say, torturing someone else. research into this seems morally problematic.on the other hand, if no act is required, then we have thought crimes or the kind of sin which it is a sin merely to think about – or not even think about, but simply be neurochemically susceptible to (“brain crime”).

  • superfluous

    seems like he wants a term based on what can be measured in the brain, rather than something based on the quality of actions.

  • Guest

    During my investigation of the WTI debacle in East Liverpool, Ohio
    where local citizens brought in world class researchers and scientists
    to educate them and the local government on the dangers that the toxic waste incinerator posed to the health and well being of the community, I had the experience to learn about these topics.This work has been done before and the determining factor was pollution in general. PICs (particles of incomplete combustion) as scientists labeled them. Tens of thousands of new compounds are formed in the incineration of toxic waste. Lead contamination a product of our industrialized society was focused on by a researcher Dr. Herbert Needlemen, if my memory serves me properly as a specific element of delinquent actions.

  • Anonymous

    During my investigation of the WTI debacle in East Liverpool, Ohio
    where local citizens brought in world class researchers and scientists
    to educate them and the local government on the dangers that the toxic waste incinerator posed to the health and well being of the community, I had the experience to learn about these topics.This work has been done before and the determining factor was pollution in general. PICs (particles of incomplete combustion) as scientists labeled them. Tens of thousands of new compounds are formed in the incineration of toxic waste. Lead contamination a product of our industrialized society was focused on by a researcher Dr. Herbert Needlemen, if my memory serves me properly as a specific element of delinquent actions.

  • Anonymous

    I think there’s a popular perception that “evil” is an intrinsic trait that some people just have. Something that can’t change. Perhaps by applying a name that suggests a treatable condition, we can see it in a different light. I’m not convinced, but I guess it might be worth a shot.

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    good answer. I guess this just brings up the debate of innate evil or not. Personally i have no idea whether you can scare the evil outta someone or if it is to the core.

  • Larchoye

    Does “evil” exist outside of the human psyche? (Not considering the possibility of evil aliens for just a moment..)

    I’m kind of gonna go ahead and say that there’s no such thing as evil… Unforgivable, unconscionable, etc… “Evil” implies there could never be any outcome that was in any way good- as the result of some deed… But generally just the *AWARENESS* of some horrible act, can serve to prevent it from happening further…

  • Larchoye

    well certainly “Evil” is determined subjectively, most often via an outside observer, is it not?

  • superfluous

    ….

    yes, it seems that way to me, too.

  • superfluous

    if by awareness you also mean labeling that act as “evil”, then i agree. the same seems to be the case with “abuse”/”unfair”, “boring”/”waste of time”, and several other labels. (or maybe you meant something completely different.)

    does lack of empathy in itself constitute a problem, or only if ppl with it commit acts deemed evil? and do you scientifically know if lack of empathy was the only/significant factor involved in an “evil” act without measuring the brain of someone, say, torturing someone else. research into this seems morally problematic.on the other hand, if no act is required, then we have thought crimes or the kind of sin which it is a sin merely to think about – or not even think about, but simply be neurochemically susceptible to (“brain crime”).

21
More in Cruelty, Empathy, Ethics, Evil, Genocide, Humanity, Murder, Psychology
The Science Of Why We Don’t Believe Science

Wondering how evolution developed us into creatures who don't believe in evolution? Mother Jones explains why large numbers of people tend to believe things that make no sense, and why...

Close