The dark side of humanity: psychopathy, psychiatry and human nature

O'Toole, Edmund
Psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder is generally conceived as a neurophysiological disorder undermining moral reasoning or sentiment, leading to behaviour which contravenes social and moral norms. This psychiatric concept is used to promote the perception of human nature as intrinsically moral. I believe this form of normativity has a correspondence with Aristotelian scientism and virtue ethics. Biological psychiatry implicitly promotes a concept of human nature with normative behaviour as virtuous, the antitheses of this virtuous normativity being psychopathy or antisocial personality disorder. But at the same time psychiatric diagnosis has also been criticized for its use as a form of social control, for medicalizing deviant behaviour, normal variation and limiting our understanding of human nature through prejudicial idealization. Indeed, the limits to such understanding often go unacknowledged. Still, while the bio-categorical approach is now recognized as lacking scientific legitimacy within the psychiatric profession, psychopathy continues to be supported by many. This thesis challenges scientific validity of psychopathy as a distinct psychiatric disorder and argues that is used as a reductionist explanation for behaviour that covers over the dark side of humanity. I believe it is neither a necessary nor a useful explanation for behaviour. Psychopathy continues to have popular and scientific support because it is a concept that benefits many. Rather than taking an Aristotelian approach, which many have done, I argue that a Machiavellian account can provide a better understanding of the problems of normativity. He allows for a pluralism of values and the recognition of action based on instrumentalism which can expand our understanding of human nature. Machiavelli provided the first modern critique of morality and the centrality of its role in organizing human affairs and this theme is developed centuries later through existentialist accounts. In following this orientation, Machiavellian realism, I argue that it allows for an understanding of bad behaviour and the dark side of human nature, without the need to apply the concept of psychopathy as biological dysfunction.
Publisher DOI
Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Ireland