The Science of Evil

What’s the difference between malignant and “basic” narcissism?

psytech blog


Is evil definable? Or we just try to evade this term in a scientific context?

  • Scientific psychology does not dare to get bogged down in this one question because it carries a strong value judgment corner. And scientists should not judge.
  • Most of the lawyers do not dare to moralize either.
  • And theologians, since Galileo Galilei (1642), have made an unspoken agreement with monks who would have preferred to study nature. They do not involve into the natural sciences, in return, nerd monks will not harm themselves into moral or supernatural matters. This split gave birth to science.
image source

According to Scott Peck, we shouldn’t evade these questions and yes, with psychological terms, we can define evil:

An evil person:

- Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection
- Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception
- Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else (“their insensitivity toward him was selective” (Peck, 1983/1988, p 105[10])
- Commonly hates with the pretense of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others
- Abuses political (emotional) power (“the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion” (Peck, 1978/1992, p298[9]))
- Maintains a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly in order to do so
- Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterized not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness)
- Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat)
- Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury

Most evil people realize the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection, or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Scott Peck, in The Road Less Traveled, calls a character and personality disorder.

Diagnosis for Evil: Malignant Narcissistic Personality Disorder (MNPD)


  • malignant narcissism > narcissism
    ( malignant ~ evil, extremely destructive )
  • narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) > narcissistic personality traits
  • malignant narcissism ≠psychopahthy
    (but lots of psychopath’s are malignant narcissist too)
  • there is no such a thing officially in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as MNPD. It’s more like a theoretical diagnostic category.


Its too much moral responsibility for poor shrinks, even if evil has some roots, that is definable by science.

The correlation’s between the so-called Dark Triad constructs. The malignant narcissism cannot be measured like this psychometric approach, but it’s more close to the concept, what normal people would call “evil”. source: 10.7717/peerj.1748/fig-1


I love Game of Thrones, where you can “study” a bunch of them, because more than ~75% of the main protagonist are narcissists in a certain level, with our actual cultural terms*.


Cercei Lannister → malignant narcissist
Tywin Lannister malignant narcissist
Melisandre malignant-like narcissist

Tyrion Lannister → “regular” celebral narcissistic-traits
Jamie Lannister → “regular” somatic narcisstic-traits

( * note, that the “good guys” Self’s are developing into a less pathological and more mature direction through the seasons. They are recovering narcissist :) )

You can interpret the whole incestuous love between the Lannister twins like a methaphor about narcissism: it’s almost like loving your mirror image


When you try to differentiate between these two conditions (malignant vs “regular” narcissism), practically you try to define maybe destructive but not evil behavior patterns from evil behavior patterns.

Scott Peck (psychiatrist & theologian) wrote a book about the subject.

If you are interested in the differentiation of the evil narcissist and not so evil narcissist, that’s a good material. (except for the woo-woo chapters about “exorcism”, I would skip it if I were you.)

“Narcissism, or self-absorption, takes many forms.
Some are normal.
Some are normal in childhood but not in adulthood.
Some are more distinctly pathological than others.

The subject is as complex as it is important.

It is not the purpose of this book, however, to give a balanced view of the whole topic, so we will proceed immediately to that particular pathologic variant that Erich Fromm called ‘Malignant Narcissism’.

Malignant Narcissism is characterized by an un-submitted will.
All adults who are mentally healthy submit themselves one way or another to something higher than themselves, be it God or truth or love or some other ideal.
M Scott Peck The People of the Lie Simon and Schuster, Inc., copyright © 1983, pg. 77–78
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