Psychopathy and Ethics in Contemporary Society

Date of Defense


Date of Graduation



Political Science

First Advisor

David Paul

Second Advisor

James Filson


From the first paragraphs:

Within approximately the last 35 years, there has been growing fascination with the psychopath in our contemporary culture. In the popular culture, psychopaths are often portrayed as having a type of meta-human defect that makes them most entirely disconnected with traditional human concerns and moral norms, in other words, a type of moral/emotional dead zone. These individuals tend to operate isolated from others, as we might imagine one who lacks empathy may be inclined to do. ... Real life dramas that have made headlines surrounding people like Ted Bundy, David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Ken Lay have further engrained the perceived nature of psychopathy and its relation to criminality. All of these characters have brought into our homes, classrooms and water coolers questions like ‘what kind of monster could do such horrible things to people and be able to live with themselves?’ Why are we so fascinated with these individuals? Shouldn’t the very thought of these individuals like these repel us on a basic instinctual, evolutionary level? Shouldn’t their ability to seemingly ignore or defy human nature frighten us to our very center? How do you protect yourself from the truly evil especially if they wear a mask of sanity?

In contrast to the popular view of psychopathy I just presented I am about to argue that these people are more plentiful then we imagine and that criminal psychopathy is the exception and not the rule. I will contend that society needs the psychopath and it has had a fascination with them that is as ancient as the written word. Central to my contention is that psychopathy does not create a relatively small number of amoral monsters but rather a modest number of individuals with a particular type of moral rational flexibility in which society needs to function properly and to flourish.

As a result of this increased interest in psychopathy across contemporary culture, there has also been an increase in the amount of research and study done on the topic as the academic disciplines interested in it have abounded.


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