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M. Scott Peck's proposed "evil" subtype of narcissistic personality disorder is distinguished from psychopathy by the use of self-deception to keep the emotional consequences of his or her crimes out of conscious awareness. A true psychopath, who does not have a conscience and does not accept morality, has no need of self-deception. Group evil, in Peck's analysis, is related to, and has much in common with, individual evil, including self-deception. There are many models of self-deception, but Davidson's model seems directly relevant to the psychology of evil as described by Peck. This is illustrated with examples from personal experience, Gitta Sereny's biography of Albert Speer and Alexander Solzhenitsyn's account of the Soviet Gulag.
Thomas S. Kubarych
Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, Volume 12, Number 3, September
2005, pp. 247-255 (Article)
Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press
DOI: 10.1353/ppp.2006.0009
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© 2006 by The Johns Hopkins University Press
Thomas S. Kubarych
and Peck’s Analysis
of Evil
ABSTRACT: M. Scott Peck’s proposed “evil” subtype of
narcissistic personality disorder is distinguished from
psychopathy by the use of self-deception to keep the
emotional consequences of his or her crimes out of
conscious awareness. A true psychopath, who does
not have a conscience and does not accept morality,
has no need of self-deception. Group evil, in Peck’s
analysis, is related to, and has much in common with,
individual evil, including self-deception. There are
many models of self-deception, but Davidson’s model
seems directly relevant to the psychology of evil as
described by Peck. This is illustrated with examples
from personal experience, Gitta Sereny’s biography of
Albert Speer and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s account of
the Soviet Gulag.
KEYWORDS: narcissism, psychopathy, personality dis-
order, will
THERE HAVE BEEN a number of calls for seri-
ous scientific study of the psychology of
evil (e.g., Baumeister 1996; Klose 1995;
Lifton 1986; Peck 1983). The 1983 call by Peck
included several specific proposals for empirical
study, including research on the relationship be-
tween individual and group evil and inclusion in
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders (DSM) of an “evil” subtype of the
narcissistic personality disorder.
Peck (1983) believes that malignant narcis-
sism is the result of an unsubmitted will.
All moral people subordinate their personal de-
sires to something more universal and important
than their individual desire. When there is a
conflict between what is right and what they want,
moral people do what is right; when there is a
conflict between the truth and what they want to
believe, moral people accept the truth. For the
malignant narcissist, it is the other way around:
they do what they want, regardless of what is
right or wrong; if there is a conflict between their
fantasies and reality, it is reality that must give.
Among malignant narcissists, the subset com-
prising the variant of narcissistic personality dis-
order Peck proposes as “evil” are characterized
by “militant ignorance” (Peck 1993). If merely
doing evil things made a person evil, all people
would be evil; there would be no point in pro-
posing a separate diagnostic category for the evil
among us. What distinguishes people with evil
personalities is being so unwilling to tolerate the
discomfort of honest self-evaluation and criti-
cism that, faced with a threat of narcissistic inju-
ry—in the form of evidence that what they want
to be true about themselves or their group might
not be true, or that their ideology might not be
true—they exterminate the evidence. This leads
to a pervasive pattern of destructiveness, scape-
goating, self-deception, other-deception, denial,
bizarre thinking patterns, and excessive concern
with issues such as power, image, and status.
248 PPP / VOL. 12, NO. 3 / SEPTEMBER 2005
A parallel and interrelated account is offered
to explain group evil, which Peck asserts is far
more common than individual evil and both sim-
ilar to and different from individual evil. Peck
uses the MyLai massacre as an illustrative exam-
ple. Although undoubtedly very few of the mem-
bers of Task Force Barker were evil individuals,
they still massacred between five and six hun-
dred unarmed civilians. They were enabled to
participate in the massacres by various psycho-
logical mechanisms and defenses, including “psy-
chic numbing” and diffusion of conscience
through the group. For long the massacre went
unreported because individuals feared the conse-
quences of speaking out.
Peck’s account of evil is consistent with a long
tradition that, directly or indirectly, evil usually
(perhaps always?) involves lies. It is also compat-
ible with Kant’s analysis of the human will (Kant
1934/1796; Ward 2002), which concluded that
the difference between good and evil people lies
in the order of subordination of their wills: is it
to the moral law or personal incentive? The evil
person subordinates the demands of the moral
law to his or her desire.
One interesting consequence of this definition
of evil is that it distinguishes an “evil” personal-
ity from the psychopath, who on this view re-
mains outside of evil (Klose 1995). According to
Fingarette, we hold as morally responsible only
those who accept morality. Psychopathy—the
notion of an individual who theoretically has no
conscience (Hare 1993) and accepts no morali-
ty—is fundamentally the absence of morality
(Klose 1995). Evil is rather a perversion of mo-
rality; evil comes about in the effort to escape
responsibility and guilt, not in the absence of it.
Because it is painful self-examination that is be-
ing avoided at all costs, the deception involved
must extend to self-deception. This leads to a
criticism of Peck’s account: self-deception is one
of the most difficult and controversial problems
in philosophical psychology.
Can one really lie to oneself? In a direct sense,
no, but deception can take many forms, and lies
and their motivations are not always direct or
simple. There are many accounts of self-decep-
tion, many of which may be able to contribute a
great deal to our understanding of evil. The
present article does not attempt a comprehensive
account of self-deception or evil. The far more
modest purpose here is to focus on an account of
self-deception that is directly relevant to Peck’s
account of evil and see what it can contribute to
understanding evil.
Davidson’s Model of Self-
According to Davidson:
An agent A is self-deceived with respect to the propo-
sition p under the following condition. A has evidence
on the basis of which he believes that p is more apt to
be true than its negation; the thought that p, or the
thought that he ought rationally to believe p, moti-
vates A to act in such a way as to cause himself to
believe the negation of p. The action involved may be
no more than an intentional directing of attention
away from the evidence in favour of p; or it may
involve the active search for evidence against p. All
that self-deception demands of the action is that the
motive originates in a belief that p is true (or recogni-
tion that the evidence makes it more likely to be true
than not), and that the action be done with the inten-
tion of producing a belief in the negation of p. Finally,
and it is especially this that makes self-deception a
problem, the state that motivates self-deception and
the state it produces coexist; in the strongest case, the
belief that p not only causes a belief in the negation of
p, but also sustains it. Self-deception is thus a form of
self-induced weakness of the warrant, where the mo-
tive for inducing a belief is a contradictory belief (or
what is deemed to be sufficient evidence in favour of
the contradictory belief). In some, but not all, cases,
the motive springs from the fact that the agent wishes
that the proposition, a belief in which he induces,
were true, or a fear that it might not be. So self-
deception often involves wishful thinking as well.
(1985, 88–89)
The agent’s desire that the induced belief be true,
or fear that it might not be, addresses the central
issue of Peck’s account of evil: the willingness to
confront the truth even when it may cause nar-
cissistic injury. By “weakness of the warrant”,
Davidson means rejecting a hypothesis that the
available evidence suggests is probably true. This
violates Hempel and Carnap’s requirement of
total evidence for inductive reasoning: when de-
ciding among mutually exclusive hypotheses, ac-
cept the one most supported by all available
relevant evidence. Weakness of the warrant is a
cognitive error analogous to, and with the same
logical structure as, weakness of the will: acting
intentionally, or intending to act, on the basis of
less than all relevant reasons. Conflict is neces-
sary for both, and may cause lapses in reason,
but does not necessitate its failure. In weakness
of the warrant, an irrational belief is in conflict
with the best or sum of the evidence; in weakness
of will, an irrational intention is in conflict with
one’s values. Weakness of the warrant, like self-
deception, is more than simply overlooking evi-
dence or not realizing that things one knows
contradict a belief. To be guilty of self-deception
or weakness of the warrant, one must consider a
hypothesis and reject it in spite of evidence to the
contrary. There can be no failure of inductive
reasoning unless evidence is taken to be evidence
(Davidson, 1985).
Like weakness of the warrant, self-deception
is also similar but not identical to weakness of
the will. Both occur in the context of a conflict.
Weakness of the will, however, is an evaluative
phenomenon whose outcome is an intention; self-
deception is, like weakness of the warrant, a
cognitive phenomenon whose outcome is a be-
lief. The two often reinforce each-other and vio-
late the normative principle that one should not
act or intend to act against one’s best judgment,
i.e. perform or intend to perform an act even
though one believes that a better alternative is
available. (Davidson, 1985)
According to Davidson (1985), self-deception
includes weakness of the warrant, but goes fur-
ther in that there is a reason for the weakness of
the warrant, which plays a part in bringing it
about. Weakness of the warrant always has a
cause, but weakness of the warrant in self-decep-
tion is self-induced. Motivation and intervention
by the subject are not necessary in weakness of
either the will or warrant, but are necessary for
self-deception. Self-deception may also involve
wishful thinking, but not all wishful thinking is
So, in Davidson’s view, one belief can be the
cause of another, contradictory belief. This does
not mean that one can straightforwardly and
consciously hold two contradictory beliefs. What
it means is, as in Sackheim and Gur’s (1979)
criteria for self-deception, that one must hold
two contradictory beliefs simultaneously, be un-
aware of holding one of the beliefs, and that the
act of keeping one of the beliefs out of conscious
awareness must be motivated. Is this possible?
Does it occur? Let us seek some examples.
The case of “Joe”
A vice president—call him “Joe”—of a firm I
once worked for had a terrible reputation as a
pathological liar who had risen to his position by
stabbing many people in the back. At staff meet-
ings he sometimes spoke on neurolinguistic pro-
gramming techniques for changing thoughts, per-
ceptions, beliefs, and behaviors, which he frankly
used to twist reality to suit his wishes. When he
took charge of our division, morale plummeted
and employees left the company in droves. Clear-
ly, something was amiss. Further, the company’s
biggest customer complained that the high turn-
over rate was affecting work on important
projects we were doing for them, and the corpo-
rate front office wanted to know why so many
people were leaving the company.
Joe ordered his second in command, Bob, to
call a meeting of my department, where morale
was especially low and there had been several
resignations recently. Bob was to find out what
the employees were unhappy about, and report
back to Joe. Fourteen out of 16 people at this
meeting said that Joe had lied to them and was
the cause of the unhappiness. When Bob report-
ed this to Joe, Joe became furious, screamed that
Bob should know better and ordered Bob to go
back and find out the “real” reason for employee
Joe had good reason to believe that morale
was low and turnover high because he had lied to
and hurt so many people. This thought presum-
ably motivated Joe to order his lieutenant to find
alternative reasons for the unrest, presuming the
lieutenant knew that it was dangerous and fool-
ish to tell Joe “it’s because of you” and that low
raises, cuts in benefits, and the high work load
conveniently provided other answers. So Joe’s
250 PPP / VOL. 12, NO. 3 / SEPTEMBER 2005
self-induced weakness of the warrant originated
in a belief that a proposition p was likely to be
true, acted in such a way as to find evidence to
bring about the contradictory belief, and both
states coexisted. Further, Joe’s use of his position
of power to threaten Bob seems to be an attempt
to exterminate evidence qua Peck’s evil personal-
There is nothing in Joe’s behavior that discon-
firms the Davidson model of self-deception. Proof
would require verification that Joe actually suc-
ceeded in producing the desired belief. This, of
course, we cannot do. This is, however, a general
problem for the constructs of cognitive psychol-
ogy, such as schemas: They cannot be directly
observed. Such constructs are usually regarded
as acceptable if they provide parsimonious ex-
planations of behavior and have explanatory val-
ue. One case does not a science make, but per-
haps Davidson’s model of self-deception deserves
consideration as a parsimonious construct with
explanatory power in explaining human evil.
This kind of self-deception both differs from
and is similar to lying. In both, the deceiver
intends to produce a belief he or she does not, at
that time, believe to be true. The liar, however,
may or may not intend the victim to believe what
he or she says, or intend the victim to believe that
the liar believes what he or she says. If the liar
thinks the intended victim will reason “so-and-
so is a liar, so whatever he or she says, the
opposite must be true,” the liar may say the
opposite of what he or she wants the victim to
believe. A liar must intend only to represent him-
or herself as believing what he or she does not,
and to keep his or her intentions hidden. This
kind of deceit—the insincere representation of
one’s beliefs—cannot be practiced on oneself,
because it requires that the intention not be rec-
ognized by the intender.
The Case of Albert Speer
Albert Speer was surely one of the most tal-
ented figures of the Third Reich, as well as one of
the most ambiguous. Originally Hitler’s archi-
tect, Speer eventually became Armaments Minis-
ter and the second most powerful person in Nazi
Germany. He was almost single-handedly respon-
sible for preventing Hitler’s scorched earth poli-
cy at the end of the war. He protected employees
in his ministry with “racial and political de-
fects.” He took risks that few took in expressing
disagreements with Hitler and asking for help
and clemency for people he knew who were
imprisoned in concentration camps and their fam-
ilies, even sending them packages with food, cloth-
ing, and medicine. He was also responsible for
the use of slave labor, and worked feverishly to
prolong a war he admitted he knew was already
lost, in spite of increasingly recognizing Hitler’s
goals as evil. Many considered it an outrage that
the man (Fritz Sauckel) who recruited the slave
labor Speer needed and demanded for the arma-
ments industry was hanged at Nuremberg, while
Speer escaped the death penalty by denying di-
rect knowledge of Nazi atrocities, claiming that
he was trying to save the German people from
Hitler’s intention to leave them nothing if the
war was lost, and gaining sympathy through
formal acceptance of responsibility and appeal-
ing to the anti-communist sentiments of the West-
ern powers (Sereny 1996).
Speer claimed that he did not notice the Kri-
stallnacht and was not present during Himmler’s
speech of October 6, 1943, in which the true
“final solution to the Jewish problem” was re-
vealed. Although Viktor Brack testified at Nurem-
berg that by March 1941 the intention to exter-
minate the Jews was no secret in party higher
circles, and in the course of his daily drives to his
office Speer saw crowds of Jews being evacuated
from Berlin, he continued to deny that he knew
the Jews were being exterminated right up to his
death in 1981. He did not deny, however, that he
was blind by choice, not ignorant. He said that
he had a suspicion of what was happening to the
Jews. He admitted he had noticed the obvious
destruction of the Kristallnacht, and that Jews
were evicted from their homes, but had not sought
to know the reasons. Speer said that he consid-
ered himself morally responsible for this failure
from the moment when his friend Karl Hanke
advised him never, under any circumstances, to
accept an invitation to visit Auschwitz:
He had seen something there which he was not per-
mitted to describe and moreover could not describe. I
did not query him. I did not query Himmler, I did not
query Hitler, I did not speak with personal friends. I
did not investigate—for I did not want to know what
was happening there. . . . From that moment on, I was
inescapably contaminated morally; from fear of dis-
covering something which might have made me turn
from my course, I had closed my eyes. (Sereny 1996,
463; my emphasis)
This also appears to be self-deception on the
Davidson model. There is evidence, but not proof,
that crimes are being committed, and Speer avoids
evidence that would confirm or prove his suspi-
cions. It is more accurate to say that Speer want-
ed to not know than merely that he did not want
to know, and this desire not to know was the
motivation for not investigating further. In addi-
tion to Speer’s own admissions, there are reports
of knowledgeable others. On the testimony of
those closest to him, Speer characteristically re-
fused to know about things he found unpleasant
(Sereny 1996). His secretary, Annemarie Kempf,
said “I think he felt that what he didn’t know
didn’t exist” (Sereny 1996, 148).
Both Speer and his biographer Gitta Sereny
(1996) cited his feelings for Hitler as one motive
for his self-deception. Speer could not bear to
cease to believe in Hitler because there was noth-
ing else in his life. Speer insisted that there was
one additional factor: fear. When asked how,
even after he knew the war was lost, and in spite
of all the horrors going on about him, he could
continue to work so diligently for Hitler, he re-
You cannot understand. You simply cannot under-
stand what it is to live in a dictatorship; you can’t
understand the game of danger, but above all you
cannot understand the fear on which the whole thing
is based. Nor, I suppose, have you any concept of the
charisma of a man such as Hitler. (Sereny 1996, 553)
Thus far, Speer’s behavior seems well account-
ed for by Davidson’s model of self-deception. In
Speer’s case, however, there are other things to
consider. His secretary Kempf said:
I suppose one could say . . . he didn’t see anything he
didn’t want to see, but really I don’t think it was that
simple. In fact, I think he would have been glad to
have the capacity to see—certainly he was glad when-
ever we could help people. But he didn’t have that
capacity; though, in that respect too, there was a
change in him after Spandau. (Sereny 1996, 152)
Why didn’t he have the capacity to see? When
Sereny asked why what he saw in Russia did not
open his eyes, Speer replied: “I didn’t see or think
of them as human beings, as individuals” (Ser-
eny, 1996, 338). Here something beyond what is
described by Davidson enabled Speer to continue
to participate in evil even when he could not
avoid the evidence: the lack of empathy charac-
teristic of narcissistic personalities.
Although his lack of empathy gave him the
capacity to continue to commit evil even when
confronted with evidence, Speer was apparently
not without a conscience and therefore not com-
pletely unaffected by participating in evil. At the
beginning of his 20-year sentence, Speer asked
the chaplain of Spandau prison, the French min-
ister Georges Casalis, to help him become a bet-
ter man. Casalis was frank with Speer that he
considered him the most guilty of the six Nazi
inmates at Spandau, yet agreed. Together they
tried to create a rhythm of working, thinking,
and living that would lead to Speer becoming a
better man. Casalis saw his task as helping Speer
to confront the truth and deal with it while
remaining alive. Speer’s feelings of guilt were so
intense that this was extremely difficult. So diffi-
cult that, though Casalis knew that Speer was
sometimes lying, he did not condemn him for
those lies; without them the truth would have
been too much for Speer:
all prisoners- are always an ambivalent entity; one
lives with them in a perpetual state of half-truths or
half-reality. . . . In a way it is the defence of their id:
they can’t give it up, even to someone they come to
trust; if they did, it would destroy whatever “self”
they have retained. So, you see, it isn’t deliberate or
even unconsciously dishonest. It is an instinctive self-
protection process, so everything they show is always
only partly really open, really true (Sereny, 1996,
After 3 years Casalis left to pursue his doctor-
ate. He later realized that this was disastrous as
far as Speer’s efforts to become a different man
were concerned. After a period of apathy and
depression, Speer reverted from his difficult spir-
itual search to his narcissistic concentration on
252 PPP / VOL. 12, NO. 3 / SEPTEMBER 2005
himself, and used the rhythm to he had devel-
oped to work toward obtaining his freedom. The
result was an adapted version of the old Speer:
still narcissistic and avoiding the terrible truth,
but with a conviction that life had a wider mean-
ing beyond what he was capable of grasping
because of his narcissism. The Benedictine monk
Father Athanasius, who observed Speer in re-
treats that Speer attended once or twice a year
for 10 years, said that he had never known a man
as acutely aware of his deficiencies as Albert
Speer’s inner feelings of guilt were genuine,
proof that he did not lack a conscience. He often
quoted Jaspers: “Evil will rule unless I confront
it at all times in myself and others” (Sereny,
1996, 632). But there were limits to how much
truth he could stand. The topics omitted in Speer’s
writings and conversations are those that show
he was in a position to know things he claimed
not to know. When asked tough questions, Speer
often used the evasive technique of generalizing
about specifics and admitting a little to deny a
lot. This way of presenting the story is another
kind of self-deception, a way of hiding unavowed
knowledge and genuine guilt that he simply could
not live with, and also deserves consideration as
a form of self-deception that can facilitate evil.
In Speer’s case, we see self-deception of the
kind described by Davidson facilitating evil. Lack
of empathy is also a factor. We perhaps also see
other kinds of self-deception, such as presenting
the story in such as way as to minimize one’s
guilt. There is no doubt that Speer lied about
many things. The more he tried to explain away
awkward facts—how he could not have known
about the fate of the Jews or the conditions in
slave labor camps, and his relationship with Hit-
ler—the clearer it became that he was avoiding
the truth. But, as Sereny says, “to say that he was
lying is too simple. Lies and their motivations are
not like that. Speer’s reflected his need to sche-
matize his life into an alignment of feelings and
fears he could live with” (Sereny, 1996, 407).
Speer had taken Nietzsche’s (1957) advice to
avoid truths that were so terrible one could not
acknowledge them and live. His will to live was
stronger than his need to atone. Most of us are
the same.
Hitler and Forbidden Knowledge
The popular conception of Hitler is as a blood-
thirsty vampire. According to both Speer and
long-time Hitler adjutant Nicolaus von Below,
however, Hitler avoided both physical and visual
contact with violence, and experienced guilt at
ordering Röhm’s murder. Hitler absolutely re-
fused to listen to bad news, hated being tackled
on anything unpleasant, and literally closed his
eyes if forced to see the consequences of his
orders. His valet, Hans Junge, asserts that he had
the ability to hypnotize people: that Generals
would go to meetings with Hitler fully prepared
to tell him the truth, and that disaster was immi-
nent, but leave having been overwhelmed and
unable to do so (Sereny 1996, 250). When hyp-
nosis failed, there were more drastic measures.
Speer states:
One was constantly walking a tightrope between tell-
ing him the truth and risking not just being thrown
out (which could have been a blessing) but shot, or
else going along with his fantasies in the hope of
saving something for the German people. (Sereny 1996,
Henrietta von Schirach, daughter of the Reich
Youth Leader and Gauleiter of Vienna, says she
was forbidden access to the Berghof, where she
had virtually grown up, after asking Hitler if he
knew how Jews were being treated in Holland.
Inevitably, this extensive self-deception meant
that Hitler could not accurately perceive reality.
Theo Hupfauer, one of the Nazi party’s most
important administrators and Speer’s right hand
man in the last years of the war (and who himself
blocked from his mind what he saw in Russia,
blaming it on administrative stupidity), asserts
that, after Ribbentrop said he did not believe
Britain would honor its pledge to Poland, Hitler
was incapable of realizing that she would. “This
blindness was his doom” (Sereny, 1996, 210).
At least some of Hitler’s self-deception would
thus seem to fit Davidson’s model. Like Speer,
however, Hitler may have used more than one
kind of self-deception. According to Robert Jay
Lifton (1986), division of the self into two func-
tioning selves, each of which acts as an entire
self, or “doubling,” is a self-deceptive psycholog-
ical process that enables one to adapt to evil
environments. Sereny says that, after knowing
many of the people who lived around Hitler, she
has no doubt that Hitler led a double life. All
those who lived around Hitler were keenly aware
of his exceptional capacity for “compartmental-
ization.” The decisions and life he led with Him-
mler, Goebbels, his Generals, and staff he kept
strictly separate from his small, private circle. He
also required compartmentalization of others,
ordering them to think of nothing except their
own sphere of activity. A notice on every wall
read: “Every man need only know what is going
on in his own domain.” Albert Speer states:
Hitler required us not only to compartmentalise our
activities but also our thinking. He insisted that each
man should only think about his task and not be
concerned about that of his neighbour. Carried to its
logical conclusion, and linked with his secrecy order,
this meant much more than his wanting people to
concentrate their minds—it meant it was dangerous
not to. (Sereny, 1996, 184)
Group Evil in Nazi Germany
Ordinary Germans also seem to have prac-
ticed the kind of self-deception described by
Davidson in the Nazi era. Gitta Sereny says that
the astonishing thing about Germany under Hit-
ler was not that the German people accepted that
wrong was right—they did not—but that they
accepted the legitimacy of forbidden knowledge.
They knew that knowledge could be dangerous,
so even when it lurked in their minds, it was
suppressed. Carola von Poser, a long time Nazi
sympathizer, put it this way:
One ‘sensed’ that there was something wrong. But
you see, sensing isn’t knowing. One hears things which
make one feel uncomfortable, without being able to
put one’s finger on anything specific. It’s almost an
atmosphere—a way people talk, their conduct, or
perhaps their gestures or even just their tone of voice.
It is so subtle. How can one explain it to anyone who
hasn’t experienced that time, those small first doubts,
that kind of unease, for want of a better word? We
couldn’t have found words to explain what we felt
was wrong. But to find out, to look for an explana-
tion for that . . . that ‘hunch’, well, that would have
been very dangerous . . . One did know very early on
that there were dangers in knowledge. (Sereny 1996,
458; my emphasis)
Or take the confession of Speer’s legal counsel
at Nuremberg, Dr. Hans Flaechsner:
One knew it was miserable to be a Jew in Hitler’s
Germany, but one didn’t know it was a catastrophe;
one didn’t know what happened to them. Until a day
in 1943, when a client of mine who was a medic in
Russia came back with photographs of executions of
Jews, I knew absolutely nothing of this. I told him to
burn or bury the photographs and to tell no one what
he had seen. And I didn’t tell anybody either, not even
my wife. I know that it wasn’t right, but it was
prudent. One wanted to survive—it was most unsafe
to have seen such photographs. I don’t think it was
any secret that people were being executed; what we
didn’t know was that they were being systematically
mass-murdered. (Sereny 1996, 581; my emphasis)
The Gulag Archipelago
The self-deceptions discussed so far insulated
the subjects from guilt for the evil being done to
others. In The Gulag Archipelago (Solzhenitsyn
1975), one finds cases where even the victims
protected themselves from evidence that their
cherished ideology was flawed. One such exam-
ple was Olga Petrovna Matronina, one of Solzhen-
itsyn’s supervisors during his imprisonment. Ma-
tronina was an orthodox communist. When her
husband was shot during Stalin’s reign of terror,
she was sentenced to 8 years in the Gulag merely
for being his wife.
Matronina refused to accept such blatant in-
justices, even when directed against herself, as
evidence for the failure of her beloved commu-
nist ideology and party. She insisted that she did
not resent her husband’s execution or her own
imprisonment. Injustices such as these were due
to the henchmen of Beria’s predecessors Yagoda
and Yezhov (who by this time had been made
scapegoats for the excesses of the security organs
by Stalin). Under Beria, all arrests had been just;
she served the party whether in freedom or pris-
on. Her reaction to anyone who mentioned her
own arrest was this: “Those who arrested me
can now see the proof of my orthodoxy” and
“My long sentence has not broken my will in the
struggle for the Soviet government, for Soviet
industry” (Solzhenitsyn 1975, 181).
While denying any resentment for her own
imprisonment, Matronina brutally mistreated
254 PPP / VOL. 12, NO. 3 / SEPTEMBER 2005
those who worked under her. She sometimes left
orders for prisoners to be left out all night (in
Siberia). When ordered to double the output of
her section, she placed Solzhenitsyn in charge of
achieving this impossible goal. When Solzhen-
itsyn suggested that he did not have the exper-
tise, she became furious and gave orders to guards
to “Put him to work with a crowbar and don’t
take your eyes off him! Make him load six cars a
shift! Make him sweat! (Solzhenitsyn 1975,
182). When asked if the prisoners might not be
allowed one Sunday of rest, she replied: “What
right have we to a Sunday? The construction
project in Moscow1 is being held up because
there are no bricks” (Solzhenitsyn 1975, 181).
Matronina’s self-induced weakness of the war-
rant enabled her to hold on to her faith in com-
munism, but at a terrible cost.
In another example, Solzhenitsyn (1975) re-
lates how he and a friend amused themselves
with an orthodox communist while being trans-
ported to a camp. Despite overwhelming evi-
dence of the failings of the Soviet system, this
academic economist remained militantly igno-
rant of the failure of his ideology, even as one of
its victims:
“Look over there: how poverty-stricken our villag-
es are—straw thatch, crooked huts.”
“An inheritance from the Tsarist regime.”
“Well, but we’ve already had thirty Soviet years.”
“That’s an insignificant period, historically.”
“Its terrible that the collective farmers are starv-
“But have you looked in all their ovens.”
“Just ask any collective farmer in our compart-
“Everyone in jail is embittered and prejudiced.”
“But I’ve seen collective farms myself.”
“That means they were uncharacteristic.”
(The goatee had never been in any of them—that
way it was simpler.)
“Just ask the old folks: under the Tsar they were
well fed, well clothed, and they used to have so many
“I’m not even going to ask. It’s a subjective trait of
human memory to praise everything about the past.
The cow that died is the one that gave twice the milk.
[Sometimes he even cited proverbs!] And our people
don’t like holidays. They like to work.”
“But why is there a shortage of bread in many
“Right before the war, for example.”
“Not true! Before the war, in fact, everything had
been worked out.”
“Listen, at that time in all the cities on the Volga
there were queues of thousands of people . . . ”
“Some local failure in supply. But more likely your
memory is failing you.”
“But there’s a shortage now.”
“Old wives’ tales. We have from seven to eight
poods of grain.”
“And the grain itself is rotten.”
“Not at all. We have been successful in developing
new varieties of grain.”
“But in many shops the shelves are empty.”
“Inefficient distribution in local areas.”
“Yes, and the prices are high. The workers have to
do without many things.”
“Our prices are more scientifically based than any-
where else.”
“That means wages are low.”
“And the wages, too, are scientifically based.”
“That means they’re based in such a way that the
worker works for the state for free the greater part of
his time.”
“You don’t know anything about economics. What
is your profession?”
“And I am an economist. Don’t argue. Surplus
value is even impossible here.” (Solzhenitsyn, 1975
We cannot directly verify that subjects in pur-
ported cases of self-deception do or do not suc-
ceed in producing self-deceptive beliefs. This is
the well-known problem of knowledge of other
minds (Bolton and Hill 1996). One approach to
this problem has been to exclude the mind from
psychological science. This approach was taken
by behaviorism. Cognitive psychology, by con-
trast, has not shied away from many constructs,
such as schemas and scripts, which cannot be
directly observed. Self-deception should there-
fore be considered just as acceptable as schemas
and other cognitive constructs.
These cases suggest that Davidson’s model of
self-deception describes one type of self-decep-
tion that often occurs in a choice for evil. It
should go without saying that not all cases of
this or any other kind of self-deception involve a
choice for evil. It may be adaptive for patients
with incurable cancer to believe they are not as
sick as they really are. In some cases, these exam-
ples go one step further than Davidson-model
self-deception by not merely directing attention
away from evidence in favor of p, or searching
for evidence against p, but in exterminating evi-
dence in favor of p. Speer, for example, at least in
the cases described, merely avoided knowing. He
did more than just not want to know—he want-
ed to not know—but he did not kill those who
told him what he wanted to not know, as Hitler
did. There may be important differences between
people who merely avoid unwanted evidence and
people who destroy it.
On the basis of this discussion, perhaps the
dichotomy “known/unknown” may be better
(that is, more useful and less questionable) for
depth psychology than the dichotomy “conscious/
unconscious” that has been extensively criticized.
What self-deception often comes down to is a
desire to not know something. Usually, some-
thing is not known for certain until after some
investigation has taken place. One does not sus-
pect in a vacuum; one suspects because one has
evidence. This evidence may point to the truth of
a proposition that the subject either fears, or
desires to be false. In some cases of self-decep-
tion the subject intentionally does not initiate
exploratory behavior. To the contrary, he or she
avoids or disregards evidence for its truth, seeks
evidence favoring its negation, and in some cases
exterminates the evidence.
1. By which she meant the construction of a new, socialist
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and violence. New York: W. H. Freeman and Com-
Bolton, D., and J. Hill. 1996. Mind, meaning and
mental disorder: The nature of causal explanation
in psychology and psychiatry. New York: Oxford
University Press.
Davidson, D. 1985. Deception and division. In The
multiple self, ed. J. Eelster, 79–92. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Hare, R. D. 1993. Without conscience: the disturbing
world of the psychopaths among us. New York:
Kant, I. 1934/1976. Religion within the limits of rea-
son alone. New York: Harper Torchbooks.
Klose, D. A. 1995. M. Scott Peck’s analysis of human
evil: A critical review. Journal of Humanistic Psy-
chology 35, no. 3:7–36.
Lifton, R. J. 1986. The Nazi doctors: Medical killing
and the psychology of genocide. New York: Basic
Nietzsche, F. 1957. The use and abuse of history. New
York: Macmillan.
Peck, M. S. 1983. People of the lie: The hope for
healing human evil. New York: Simon & Schuster.
———. 1993. Further along the road less traveled:
The unending journey toward spiritual growth.
New York: Simon & Schuster.
Sackheim, H. A., and R. C. Gur. 1979. Self-deception,
other-deception and self-reported psychopatholo-
gy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Sereny, G. 1996. Albert Speer: His battle with truth.
London: Picador.
Solzhenitsyn, A. I. 1975. The Gulag Archipelago. New
York: HarperCollins.
Ward, D. E. 2002. Explaining evil behavior: Using
Kant and M. Scott Peck to solve the puzzle of
understanding the moral psychology of evil peo-
ple. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 9,
... Much of what is known about evil comes from philosophy and religion. The serious study of the psychology of evil has been lacking (Kubarych 2005). That case was made quite convincingly in 1983 by M. Scott Peck, in his book titled, People of The Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil. ...
This chapter will provide a critical analysis of scholarly literature regarding mass murder. Case studies will be provided that focus on specific psychological aspects of mass murder, including the more rare aspects of mass murder in which there is clear evidence of serious mental illness. Additional elements of mass murder will also be examined including motivation, the clinical picture of perpetrators, a review of notes and manifestos left behind by perpetrators, prewarning clues that could have led to understanding the intentions of the perpetrator, and what role the media may have in copycat crimes.
... Much of what is known about evil comes from philosophy and religion. The serious study of the psychology of evil has been lacking (Kubarych 2005). That case was made quite convincingly in 1983 by M. Scott Peck, in his book titled, People of The Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil. ...
This chapter will provide a critical analysis of the scholarly literature concerning serial murder. Case studies and relevant critical thinking exercises will be provided. This chapter will also focus upon the prevalence of serial murder, theories and types, aspects of race and gender among offenders, victimology, a description of the biopsychosocial clinical picture of serial murderers, and psychopathy.
... Previous research has shown that Machiavellians and psychopaths suffer from a weak understanding of morality because of their emotional deficiencies, which results in a moral absence. By contrast, narcissists have an effective cognitive-emotional ability with an awareness of conscience (Kubarych, 2005a(Kubarych, , 2005b. Therefore, possible unethical behaviors of narcissists should be due to moral perversion rather than moral absence. ...
... NPD is linked to other personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder (Kernberg, 1975), and antisocial personality disorder (Kernberg, 1989), and normal personality traits such as extraversion and (low) agreeableness (Costa and Widiger, 2002). It has recently been included, with psychopathy and Machiavellianism, as one of the 'dark triad' personalities ( Jacobwitz and Egan, 2006;Paulhus and Williams, 2002;Kubarych, 2005aKubarych, , 2005b. ...
Full-text available
We investigated measurement non-invariance of DSM-IV narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) criteria across age and sex in a population-based cohort sample of 2794 Norwegian twins. Age had a statistically significant effect on the factor mean for NPD. Sex had a statistically significant effect on the factor mean and variance. Controlling for these factor level effects, item-level analysis indicated that the criteria were functioning differently across age and sex. After correcting for measurement differences at the item level, the latent factor mean effect for age was no longer statistically significant. The mean difference for sex remained statistically significant after correcting for item threshold effects. The results indicate that DSM-IV NPD criteria perform differently in males and females and across age. Differences in diagnostic rates across groups may not be valid without correcting for measurement non-invariance.
This chapter will summarize some of the literature regarding concepts of evil. It will include a discussion of the works of M. Scott Peck, Erich Fromm, Philip Zimbardo and their contributions to the understanding of evil. Also discussed will be the concept of malignant narcissism and what is clinically known about this disorder and its impact upon individuals and society at large. A critical thinking exercise is also provided.
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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 12.3 (2005) 261-263 Kubarych (2005) first draws on Peck (1983) to suggest a distinction between psychopaths who have no conscience and therefore no need for self-deception, and evil narcissists who use self-deception to keep the emotional consequences of their crimes out of awareness. He then draws on Davidson (1985) to emphasize a parallel between self-deception (or weakness of the warrant) where an irrational belief conflicts with the evidence, and akrasia (or weakness of the will) where an irrational intention is in conflict with one's values. Although self-deception has long been de-scribed and debated (Fingarette 2000; McLaughlin and Rorty 1988; Mele 2001), a cognitive-affective neuroscience of self-deception has become possible only recently. Such an approach includes several strands. First, contemporary information processing constructs (e.g., schemas) have been used to reframe the early insights of writers like Freud and James, and to emphasize how inattention to painful truths provide a shield against anxiety (Goleman 1997). Second, the theoretical framework of evolutionary psychology has been used to emphasize the adaptive advantages of self-deception (Lockard and Delroy 1988). Third, functional brain imaging studies have noted increased activity in executive regions (e.g., prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices) during attempted deception but not during truthful responding, suggesting that the former requires active effort (Spence et al. 2004). The functional imaging of memory suppression suggests similar processes (Anderson et al. 2004). To date, however, there has been little functional imaging work on self-deception. Similarly, although evil has always been a key concern of philosophical thought, a cognitive-affective neuroscience of evil has emerged only in recent years (Stein 2000). Evil actions are not homogenous, and this area of research again comprises a number of different strands. First, there are actions where the primary aim is not necessarily to hurt, but where harm is in fact inflicted. (A contested, but perhaps useful example, is the battery-raising of animals for human consumption [Singer 2001]). Second, there are actions where the aim is to hurt, and where harm to the other may even be enjoyed. (During normal altruistic punishment, for example, reward circuitry is activated [de Quervain et al. 2004]). Third, there are actions characterized by impulsive aggression, and a relative absence of executive control. (There may be psychobiological distinctions between reactive aggression in response to frustration or threat, and instrumental aggression that is more goal directed [Blair 2004]). What are the implications of these two sets of cognitive-affective neuroscience literature for a philosophical consideration of evil and of narcissism? It may be useful to differentiate healthy processes (e.g., having sufficient frontal cortical activity to be able to deceive others) from psychopathologic processes (e.g., not having the necessary frontal-amygdala circuitry required for empathic processing of emotions in social interaction). Similarly, it may be useful to differentiate between normal healthy narcissism (Taylor and Brown 1988) and pathologic malignant narcissism (Kernberg 1985), and between normal altruistic punishment (Hamilton 1963) and pathologic sadistic personality (Kaminer and Stein 2001). In addition, it is perhaps the case that some cognitive-affective processes that do not seem to involve psychopathology may nevertheless be seen as evil (e.g., arguably, the processes that allow a human to eat a battery-raised chicken), whereas some cognitive-affective processes that are clearly psychopathologic may not be viewed as evil (e.g., impulsive aggression in the context of a frontal lobe tumor may be viewed as excusable, as "mad" rather than "bad"). Taken together with recent work on the cognitive-affective neuroscience of psychopathy, narcissism, and sadism, these considerations may lead to somewhat different approaches from those taken by Peck and Davidson. In his work on psychopathy, for example, Blair emphasizes a dysfunction in cognitive-affective processing resulting in abnormalities in the weighing up of social emotions (Blair 2004). This account is not inconsistent with a view that in psychopathy there is a disturbance in moral processing that is evil (contra Peck). Furthermore, this account indicates that self-deception (at least in psychopathy) involves both cognitive and affective processes (contra Davidson). There is less of an empirical...
This article brings critical attention to M. Scott Peck's (1983) analy-sis of both individual and collective human evil, as presented in his The People of the Lie. Overlooked by some psychologists and others because of its religious associations, Peck's account stands up well as a psychological analysis that explains evil character structure as both a form of narcissistic personality disorder and a moral break-down, or perversion, of conscience. Concepts of denial, scapegoating, threatened narcissism, lying, self-deception, and cover-up, in Peck's account, illuminate in parallel ways both individual and collective evil. Perennial questions, such as how ordinary persons come to perpetuate extraordinary evil, the genesis of evil character, and whether human evil can be healed, are explored by comparing Peclks views with those of other writers.
I assume that we find it hard to understand, for example, how a person could harm another person in cold blood. I then set out Kant's reason's for thinking that, strictly speaking, evil behavior is impossible: people may act on wicked desires but deliberate wrong-doing is not a genuine phenomenon. However, Kant's view is at odds with our common sense intuitions about morally evil behavior, namely, that such behavior is possible, albeit difficult to understand. I then suggest how Kant's analysis of the problem of evil behavior can help us to understand under what conditions evil behavior would be possible. Next, I introduce Peck's theory of how evil behavior can manifest itselfwhen a person suffers from malignant narcissism—a complaint that involves acting on principles which are not consciously acknowledged. I conclude that Kant's views on evil can be understood with reference to Peck's theory (and vice versa).
In this book, which has been written for psychiatrists, psychologists, philosophers, and others in related fields, the authors propose a . . . reconstruction of [the] traditional distinctions [between body and mind]. Throughout the discussion philosophical theories are brought to bear on the particular questions of the explanation of behaviour, the nature of mental causation, and eventually the origins of major disorders including depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and personality disorder. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Administered inventories designed to assess self-reported psychopathology, other-deception (lying), and self-deception to a group of 250 undergraduates. The inventories included the Beck Depression Inventory, the Neuroticism and Lie scales of the Eysenck Personality Inventory, the Manifest Symptom Questionnaire, the Other-Deception Questionnaire, and the Self-Deception Questionnaire. Substantial negative correlations were found between self-deception and psychopathology scores, and the relationships between the self-deception and psychopathology scores were stronger than those between the other-deception and psychopathology measures. Findings support the view that self-deception significantly contributes to the invalidity of self-report inventories and more so than does other-deception. The possibility is raised that self-deception is a moderating variable contributing to the lack of agreement between clinical and actuarial forms of assessment. (7 ref)