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In his bestselling "People of the Lie", Scott Peck claims that narcissists are evil. Are they?

The concept of "evil" in this age of moral relativism is slippery and ambiguous. The "Oxford Companion to Philosophy" (Oxford University Press, 1995) defines it thus: "The suffering which results from morally wrong human choices."

To qualify as evil a person (moral agent) must meet these requirements:

  1. That he can and does consciously choose between the (morally) right and wrong and constantly and consistently prefers the latter.
  2. That he acts on his choice irrespective of the consequences to himself and to others.

Clearly, evil must be premeditated. Francis Hutcheson and Joseph Butler argued that evil is a by-product of the pursuit of one's interest or cause at the expense of other people's interests or causes. But this ignores the critical element of conscious choice among equally efficacious alternatives. Moreover, people often pursue evil even when it jeopardizes their well-being and obstructs their interests. Sadomasochists even relish this orgy of mutual assured destruction.

 

Narcissists satisfy both conditions only partly. Their evil is utilitarian. They are evil only when being malevolent secures a certain outcome. Sometimes, they consciously choose the morally wrong - but not invariably so. They act on their choice even if it inflicts misery and pain on others. But they never opt for evil if they are to bear the consequences. They act maliciously because it is expedient to do so - not because it is "in their nature".

The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. In the pursuit of his interests and causes, he sometimes chooses to act wickedly. Lacking empathy, the narcissist is rarely remorseful. Because he feels entitled, exploiting others is second nature. The narcissist abuses others absent-mindedly, off-handedly, as a matter of fact.

The narcissist objectifies people and treats them as expendable commodities to be discarded after use. Admittedly, that, in itself, is evil. Yet, it is the mechanical, thoughtless, heartless face of narcissistic abuse - devoid of human passions and of familiar emotions - that renders it so alien, so frightful and so repellent.

We are often shocked less by the actions of narcissist than by the way he acts. In the absence of a vocabulary rich enough to capture the subtle hues and gradations of the spectrum of narcissistic depravity, we default to habitual adjectives such as "good" and "evil". Such intellectual laziness does this pernicious phenomenon and its victims little justice.

Read Ann's response: http://www.narcissisticabuse.com/evil.html


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next: Narcissism, Substance Abuse, and Reckless Behaviours