BEWARE! Narcissists, Psychopaths are Immoral, Amoral (Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development)

Uploaded 1/6/2024, approx. 39 minute read

And if you listen carefully to the litany of their complaints, the stream and river of the hurt and pain, you realize that their arguments fall into three categories.

There is the shock of the amoral or the immoral. The behavior of the narcissist is perceived as beastly, animalistic, beyond the pale. Then there is a transactional argument. I've done so much for her. I've sacrificed a lot. And yet this is the way she is repaying my kindness.

And finally, there is the very similitude or the empathy-based complaint. I'm human. He is human. And yet he is behaving in a beastly, animalistic manner. He is being inhuman.

Indeed, here is another dimension which sets narcissists and psychopaths apart from the rest of humanity and even undermines and challenges their self-imputed attribution as human beings.

Narcissists and psychopaths are devoid of morality, no trace of it, no hint, no shade, nothing, no morality there.

And these are the only two groups of people who are absolutely immaculate when it comes to morality, cleansed of it.

And today we're going to discuss how does this come about? How is it possible to grow up from child to adult and remain throughout, untouched by ethics, by morality, and by others?

I would like to start with a quote from a renowned psychopath and narcissist.

Providence has ordained that I should be the greatest liberator of humanity. I am freeing men from the restraints of an intelligence that has taken charge, from the dirt in degrading self-motifications of a false vision called conscience and morality. The Ten Commandments have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention. It is a blemish, exactly like circumcision.

And yes, you guessed right. This was written by Adolf Hitler.

So Hitler verbalized the eternal conflict unto death between the narcissistic psychopath or the psychopath or the narcissist and morality and conscience.

Before we go further, let's discuss the term psychopathy a bit.

Psychopathy comes from a German word. It's a translation of a German word. The first use of this German word is generally credited to a psychiatrist by the name of Kor in 1888. Ironically, psychopathy means literally a suffering soul.

So one of the first medical professionals to describe psychopaths was the French doctor Philippe Pinel in 1806. Pinel described a condition which he called "maniarch sans delir," insanity without delirium.

One of the students of Pinel was Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol. And he called it "La Folie résumée," the rational madness.

Benjamin Rush described it as "moral derangement." Moral insanity was another popular term. It was used in the United States and England throughout the 1800s and the early 1900s.

So early on, when psychopathy has first been captured by diagnosticians, first described, it was intimately and inextricably linked to issues of morality or the lack of morality or moral insanity or moral deficit of some kind, deficiency in morality and in character.

Now this term, psychopathy, gained traction gradually. And in the first time of the 1900s, it rose to prominence.

And then it has been replaced by sociopathy. Sociopathy is a term which made its first appearance in the 1930s.

And for a very long time, a few decades, clinicians all over the world were using psychopathy and sociopathy interchangeably, even in academic studies, scholars, academic papers and textbooks.

Sociopathy and psychopathy were essentially synonyms. Actually, there was a preference for sociopathy because people confuse psychopathy with psychosis.

So scholars preferred, especially when communicating with the public through the media, scholars preferred to use the term sociopathy. And to this very day, you have books like The Sociopath Next Door by Marta Stout.

Be that as it may, the term evoked behaviors, which are largely the product of the environment.

Sociopathy implied that there is some problem in interacting with and within society. Psychopathy, on the other hand, began to be gradually linked to genetic issues, to brain abnormalities, both functional and structural, developmental, regression, developmental arrest, and so on and so forth. So psychopathy became more and more a biological entity, while sociopathy became more and more a moral derangement, a moral insanity, a problem of character, as it is manifested in social functioning or lack thereof.

Much later, in 1980, the third edition of the DSM introduced the term antisocial personality disorder.

So this is the background.

Now in 1958, there was a guy, his name was Kordberg. And Kordberg was a student of Jean Piaget. Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist, child psychologist, and the father of modern child psychology, together with Anne Freund on the one hand and Ericsson on the other hand. All three disagreed about almost everything. And yet, together, put together, they provide a perfect picture of the emerging child and how the child gradually becomes an adult.

In 1958, Kordberg designed a series of experiments or studies. He wrote down, he composed moral dilemmas. And then he tested children, he read out these moral dilemmas to children, and asked them how they would have behaved in the situations described in the vignettes.

And I will tell you about one of these. It's called Heinz's Dilemma. And this is the story, the short story, written by Kordberg and presented to the children. Heinz, as implied by the name, is a character who lives somewhere in Europe. Heinz's wife was dying from a particular type of cancer. Doctors said that a new drug might save her. The drug has been discovered by a local chemist. And Heinz tried desperately to buy some of the drug, but the chemist was charging ten times the money it had cost to make the drug. And this was much more than Heinz could afford. Heinz could only raise half the money, even after help from family and friends. Heinz explained to the chemist that his wife was dying and asked if he could have the drug cheaper or if he could pay the rest of the money later. The chemist refused, saying that he had discovered the drug and was going to make a lot of money from it.

The husband was desperate to save his wife, so later that night he broke into the chemist and stole the drug. And the question that Kordberg presented to the children, to the, in my view, befuddled children, should Heinz have broken into the laboratory to steal the drug for his wife? Why should he or why shouldn't he have acted this way? Kordberg asked the children, should Heinz have stolen the drug? Would it change anything if Heinz did not love his wife? What if the person dying was a stranger to Heinz? Would it have made any difference? Should the police arrest the chemist for murder if the woman were to die? Should the police arrest Heinz for breaking into the pharmacy and stealing the drug? And so on and so forth.

Gradually, by introducing this story and many others to children in a wide range of ages, Kordberg came up with a theory of moral development, development of morality.

But before we go into the details of the theory and apply them to the disturbed or disrupted development of narcissists and psychopaths, before we go there, it's important to understand a few philosophical tenets or pillars of Kordberg's work.

First of all, there's the issue of disequilibrium. Moral dilemmas, moral issues, present a series of problems that create a sense of dissonance. That's why they are called dilemmas.

Limitations, the breakdown of reasoning, emotional thinking, conflicting moral edicts and principles and so on and so forth.

So morality is based on disequilibrium. Morality is precarious. Morality is always on the verge of tumbling and disintegrating.

There was a first insight of Kordberg. And morality additionally is not something that emanates from the insight, at least not originally. It is an act of emulation or imitation or mimicry being exposed to other people's points of view, role models, parental figures, even influential peers. These are the influences that shape morality.

So morality is more of an external phenomenon rather than an internal phenomenon. It is imposed from the outside. It is imported. It's very reminiscent of what Lacan has suggested, that the unconscious is actually the sum total of the speech or language of other people. And of course, when we talk about conscience, the conscience is a cluster of interjects, a group of voices. And these voices help the person turn right from wrong.

The conscious is intimately linked, communicating with the ego because the ego is the reality principle. If you were to act in a certain way, you would have to bear the consequences, for example.

Okay, we'll come to it a bit later. So morality in Kordberg's work is the outcome of interactions. It's relational. It's about perspective and about perception. And it entails the deep and repetitive involvement of many others.

Kordberg differentiated between three levels of morality and six phases grouped into these three levels.

The first level is the pre-conventional level. And the first stage in the first level is avoiding punishment.

Moral reasoning is based on direct consequences. I'm going to do A, I'm going to be punished. I'm going to do B, I'm going to be rewarded.

So I'm going to do A. It's a form of very primitive operand conditioning.

Stage two in level one is the self-interest stage. Actions are seen in terms of rewards rather than moral value.

So I would tend to choose B as a course of action because of the reward, because it's gratifying somehow, because I'm going to be praised or I'm going to end up with a prize.

The issue is that I don't have any moral compass or moral guidelines. There is no morality involved here. It's again a form of operand conditioning, kind of reinforcement, positive reinforcement for action type B, negative reinforcement for action type A. It's very primitive.

And in principle, it's totally applicable to animals, not only to human beings.

The pre-conventional level is actually universal and it crosses the species barrier. But then we begin to become human and we transition to the second level, the conventional level.

Stage three in the conventional level is the good boy attitude. Good behavior is about living up to social expectations and roles. These expectations and roles are communicated via the twin processes of socialization and acculturation via socialization agents like mother and father, role models, figures in the mass media, in social media, influences and so on and so forth. Society begins to intrude upon the formation of morality and shapes it big time.

The child at this stage is asking himself, this behavior, is it socially acceptable? And behaviors which are not socially acceptable are sublimated. They are converted into other types of behaviors which are socially acceptable.

The child begins to fulfill specific roles in accordance with scripts, social scripts and later sexual scripts, roles such as gender roles, the role of a child, a son or a daughter, the role of a boyfriend, etc. So roles, role play enters the game here.

The next stage, stage number four is the law and order morality. Moral reasoning considers societal laws and regulations. Everything is rigid and strict and forced from the outside via law enforcement institutions and morality is reactive to this information, the constraints and the constrictions of law and order.

The next level, so this is the conventional, the next level is the post-conventional level.

Stage five is the social contract. Rules are seen as social agreements that can be changed when necessary. So rules are negotiable, they reflect a consensus and such consensus is always ephemeral, is always transient, always reflects the exigencies and the constraints of the environment. Everything now is environmental and everything now is the outcome of coalition building, game theory considerations, collaboration, opposition and so on and so forth. In short, morality becomes a social play in effect. And the final stage and the most advanced is the stage of universal principles. Moral reasoning is based on universal ethical principles and justice, which appear to be at least immutable and divorced from environmental influences, other people's opinions, consensus, coalition building, other game theoretical considerations and so on. These are non-negotiable, non-negotiable rules. For example, thou shalt not kill is a universal moral principle, not dependent upon a period in history, upon context, upon a specific society, cultural specifications and so on and so forth. Of course, almost no one attains level six, because society itself disincentivizes us, does not allow us to progress there. If you were to follow level six to its logical conclusion, other absurdum, if you wish, then you would never be able to be a soldier, because thou shalt not kill, period. It's universal, it's immutable, it's non-negotiable, it's non-transformable, that's the way it is. So you're not allowed to kill another person and maybe even animals. So you can't be a soldier. Society frowns upon stage six. Society, on the very contrary, tries to render morality very malleable, very transitory, very socially determined. Okay, so this is the picture and in a minute we'll discuss other scholars and thinkers which followed Kohlberg and built a whole edifice on his work.

But first, let's revert to our favorite characters, the narcissist and the psychopath, Humpty and Dumpty.

Here's the shocking truth, the narcissist and the psychopath not only fail to progress from stage one to stage two and from stage two to stage three and yes, these stages are cumulative and they're dependent on each other. You cannot transition directly to stage four, you have to go through stage one and two and three to get there.

Well narcissists and psychopaths never even begin the trip, they never even develop stage one. The narcissist and the psychopath are devoid of empathy, at least emotional empathy. They have something that I dubbed cold empathy, combination of reflexive and cognitive empathy. They don't regard, at least the narcissist doesn't regard other people as separate or external. Both the narcissist and the psychopath regard other people as pets, instruments, tools of gratification, useful obstructions, idealized images, figments in a fantasy, participants in a paracosm, anything but human beings.

Moreover, because the narcissist and the psychopath, especially the narcissist, psychopath much less so, but the narcissist has an impaired reality testing, the narcissist is unable to connect his actions to the consequences of his actions. The psychopath on the other hand, from a very early age, usually diagnosed with a conduct disorder, the psychopath is defiant, consummation rejects and hates authority and reckless.

So the narcissist will not avoid punishment, will not even transition to stage one. Remember stage one in Kohlberg's scheme, stage one is the avoidance of punishment.

Stage two is self-interest. To remind you, according to Kohlberg, the child's moral reasoning, initially stage one is based on punishment, on direct consequences of the child's actions. The child anticipates and foresees and predicts punishment and to avoid it, he imposes constraints and limitations and restrictions on his own behavior. Similarly, a bit later in stage two, the child begins to waive his options, his behavioral options, to waive them in terms of punishment and reward. And the child tends to gravitate towards the rewards.

Not only children, but even animals do this. There are only two exceptions, the narcissist and the psychopath.

Narcissists and the psychopath.

Narcissists and psychopaths are not responsive to punishments and to rewards, into negative reinforcements. They can never be conditioned in this sense.

And in the case of the narcissist, it's because he is not embedded in reality. He is subject or a victim of a fantasy defense, gun haywire. So the narcissist is unable to connect his actions to the consequences of his actions.

The psychopath regards punishment as divorced completely from his actions. That's why psychopaths always feel that their punishment is unjust. They always, they feel discriminated against. They feel that other people are punishing them and they shouldn't. Because the psychopath believes that the authority or the institution or the person who is punishing them is punishing them only because they can. Psychopaths have no concept of justice. The actions of the psychopaths should not bring about punishment. And if they do, the punishment has nothing to do with the actions. It's just a display of power, brute raw power.

So psychopaths cannot make the link, can absolutely cannot form the link between misconduct, misbehavior and misdeeds and crimes and punishment. These in their minds are totally unrelated events and reflect the power matrix.

The police is more potent and stronger than the psychopath. So of course they punish the psychopath because they can, because they have weapons, because aggression and violence are normal modes of communication and interrelatedness in the psychopath's world. And so the narcissists in the psychopath fail to develop stages one and two because they are unable to create an internal working model which incorporates information about the world, information about themselves and information about other minds, something that is known as theory of mind.

This failure to develop an internal working model is the outcome of an earlier failure to come up with a constellated, integrated self or what Freud used to call ego. Narcissists and psychopaths don't have a self, they don't have an ego, they don't have any coordinating authority or coordinating function, executive function which puts together all the various self states within a coherent narrative.

They don't have this, they're not cohesive, they're kaleidoscopic, they're fragmented. So they experience their own lives as dissociated and disjointed and so they can't see there's no causation, there's no cause and effect in the narcissists and psychopaths lives and minds.

A doesn't lead to B necessarily, crime doesn't lead to punishment necessarily. It could and does happen that A and B occur, co-occur. So even if B follows A on a regular basis in the psychopath's mind it doesn't mean that A causes B or that B is somehow related to A in a highly correlated manner. There's no correlation let alone causation.

Everything is just a hodgepodge of totally random events. So they don't even enter stage one and two and of course consequently they never graduate to stages three, four, five and six.

Narcissists and psychopaths therefore have not a single vestige of morality, not self-interested morality, not operant conditioned morality, not social contract morality, not principled morality, philosophical morality, not type of morality whatsoever, not even the kind of morality that is helpful to themselves, not even the kind of morality that is likely to render the narcissist and the psychopath more centrifugacious, not even the kind of morality that is fake and intended to manipulate people, not even the kind of morality that is intended to avoid punishment, not even the kind of morality that is intended to elicit rewards and outcomes that are favorable to the narcissist and the psychopath.

Non morality period, no conception of morality because morality rests on two pillars, the existence of others as separate external entity equal to oneself morally and cause and effect. Both these pillars crumble in narcissism and psychopathy.

The narcissist and the psychopath especially in the narcissist are unable to perceive other people. The narcissist cannot perceive other people as external or separate to himself and the psychopath cannot perceive other people as equal to himself and both of them, the narcissist and the psychopath cannot link, cannot connect events in a causal chain. They cannot form chains of being, chains of cause and effect. They don't see how their actions might trigger responses and reactions from the environment. They just can't see it. They don't understand that if they misbehave, if they commit a crime, they're likely to be punished. It never crosses their minds. The punishment is going to come and when it does, the narcissist and psychopath perceive the punishment is an isolated event that had not antecedents and not presidents. And similarly, good, good actions, good choices, good decisions, benevolence, altruism, charitable actions. The narcissist and the psychopath cannot see how these actions accrue and lead to some favorable social outcome. If they, if when narcissist and psychopaths act pro-socially, communally and charitably and altruistically, it's not because they expect society to reward them somehow. It's because they are in the throes of obtaining narcissistic supply or securing some goal. In short, these are automated procedures, automated routines intended to manipulate the environment into specific outcomes.

But not in the sense of desert. I deserve this. I'm a good person. I acted in accordance to my morality and my ethics and therefore I deserve to be praised or rewarded in some way. On the other hand, I'm a bad person. I acted immorally or even criminally and I deserve to be punished. There's no desert. There's no concept of desert. And so there's no morality in narcissism and psychopathy.

All the discussions and conversations and scholarly papers and arguments, not to mention nonsensical videos by your YouTube self-styled experts that discuss issues of morality when it comes to narcissism. How could he have done this? This is so immoral, so unbelievable, so inhuman, so beyond the pale, so shocking. All this is utter nonsense. The narcissist and psychopath lack the basic apparatus of social functioning. Morality is just a form of conforming socially.

Now, Kornberg's work dates back to 1958, as I said. But it is still very much relevant and it's quite brilliant, and so there are many contemporary scholars who are still in the process of developing the framework, Kornberg's framework. They're not using any more Kornberg's methods. They don't present children with morality tales or moral dilemmas that the children can never grasp. I mean, for example, the story of Heinz and his wife and the chemist and what child can truly grasp? These children have never been married. They haven't fallen in love yet and they definitely don't understand the meaning of intellectual property and perhaps why is it morally unjustified to break into the pharmacy and steal?

So age-appropriate narratives are used today to study moral experience and moral development in children.

So, for example, this work by Tapan, T-A-P-P-P-A-N, starting in 1996, and they use this group of psychologists, they use a narrative approach and they regard morality as a story. People construct stories and then they build identities around moral experiences.

There's moral accrual, there's an accretion of moral events or events that precipitated moral dilemmas and the resolution of moral dilemmas.

The more experience you are at exercising your moral muscles, the more likely morality will get integrated with your identity.

And this is, of course, part and parcel of the social-cultural tradition of examining identity in social context. It's a kind of school in modern psychology. It's a contextualized understanding of moral development.

There's another, there's others, there's Colby and Damans, starting in the early 1990s. They did empirical research and they used in-depth life story interviews to study moral situations, moral examples, moral dilemmas. They asked people, how did you act in specific situations? They analyzed moral causes, moral principles. And so their work was not hypothetical. It wasn't based on hypothetical dilemmas or even narratives, but they simply asked people, how did you behave? Real moral challenges and commitments and the behaviors that ensued.

And then there was Walker and Pease, again starting in the 1990s. They also interviewed people and asked them to discuss real life moral situations or moral dilemma situations.

And so there's a tendency today to move from hypothetical dilemmas to real life narratives and to contextualize morality in the framework of society and culture, not to regard it as a standalone thing that develops independent of society and culture, but as an artifact or an outcome of social interaction.

And this is of course another deficit when it comes to narcissists and psychopaths. Narcissists and psychopaths are not embedded in society. They never interact with society. They have very disrupted socialization. They have extremely arrested, acculturated. They are loners in the most existential sense of the word.

The narcissist is unable to perceive other people as external and separate. And therefore the narcissist inhabits a fantastic inner space.

The narcissist therefore has zero experience in social interactions and never faces moral dilemmas because he doesn't recognize the existence of others.

The psychopath on the other hand rejects wholesale the very concept of society, its laws, its regulations, its mores. He rejects all this. His consummation is defined. And the psychopath has a basic failure in causality, in connecting actions to consequences. And so he acts recklessly. He is very self-destructive and self-defeating, not because he doesn't seek to maximize or to optimize his favorable outcomes, but because he's incapable of doing this.

So both of them have extreme social deficits, which would explain why they are amoral in the best case and in many cases immoral and criminal.

Now, Rest, a guy by the name of Rest and the colleagues, they developed a theoretical model, a psychologist by the name of Rest and colleagues. They developed a theoretical model. They moved beyond Kohlberg's stage-based approach. Rest's model outlines four components of moral behavior, moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character.

So as suggested for the moral judgment component, individuals use moral schemas rather than progress through discrete stages of moral reasoning. Schemas are generalized knowledge structures. They include beliefs and values and cognitions and emotions and experiences. Schemas help us to interpret information, situations, the environment.

And so an individual usually has multiple schemas. And each scheme is available to tackle another aspect of existence. Inevitably, there are also moral schemas, schemas whose role is to tackle moral dilemmas and moral decision-making and moral choices.

So this is not limited to any specific developmental stage. We develop or evolve schemas and they remain with us for life.

And some examples of moral schemas that Rest and his colleagues proposed included personal interest schema focused on individual interests and preferences. Maintaining norms schema emphasizes following rules and norms and so on and so forth. And post-conventional schema considers moral ideals and principles.

So Rest regarded development as movement not to higher reasoning stages. He didn't regard it as acquiring additional more complex reasoning, but additional more complex schemas.

Lower schemas are not replaced as they are in Kohlberg. Each stage is a successor to the previous stage. There is a cumulative effect in Kohlberg's scheme. You can't transition to phase four before you have gone through phases one, two and three.

So this is the cumulative effect.

But in schema theory, the schemas accrue. It's like archaeology. They are layers of schemas. And so the higher order schemas complement lower order schemas. Lower schemas are not replaced, but they're augmented, so to speak.

The schema concept is preferable, in my view, at least, to the stage model.

Because Kohlberg's stage model is very rigid and not very responsive to changing context and fluid environments, while schemas are much more flexible.

And they allow us to integrate social factors into moral reasoning on the fly, which is much more similar to my approach that man is a river, not a pond.

The kinetic element in psychology is missing. We tend to regard people as inert snapshots. It's very narcissistic.

And schema therapy compensates for this.

Now, Kohlberg never claimed that there would be a one to one correspondence between thinking and acting. What we say and what we think don't always translate to what we do.

But he did suggest that there is some link between our thoughts, our cognitions, and our beliefs, and our speech acts, commitments via speech acts, and our essential actions.

BEE, 1994, suggested that we need to take into account habits that people develop over time, whether people see situations as demanding participation, and sometimes your witness to an event or an occurrence.

So, and you don't feel that you have to participate, or you're even afraid to participate. You're afraid of the consequences of participating. There's an issue of costs and benefits of behaving in a particular way.

And there's always competing motives. There is this assumption that moral motivation is dominant, is superior, is likely to repress and suppress all the alternatives. And that is wrong. That is absolutely wrong.

Peer pressure, for example, overrides moral reasoning very often. Just ask the Nazi SS or the Nazi Party, where peer pressure, mob psychology, or colloquiality, the rule of the mob, overrode the morality, the bourgeoisie middle class Catholic morality of many of the Germans involved.

Self-interest very often overrides moral principles, even socially dictated moral principles, not only universal moral principles.

So moral reasoning and the evolution of moral reasoning are one component, one ingredient, one element in moral behavior.

Moral behavior is dictated by many extramoral, non-moral issues.

As I mentioned, peer pressure, personal interest, sometimes there's a conflict, a deontico-axiological conflict, a conflict of values.

So two moral values, conflict, for example, thou shalt not kill and thou shalt defend your homeland. Thou shalt not steal, but your wife is dying. So we need to be a lot more flexible.

This is another point where the narcissist and the psychopath are likely to fail. They are rigid structures. The narcissist's personality is chaotic, is totally disorganized.

As I said, there's no headquarters, there's no coordinating authority, there's no cohesion, no core identity.

True. To compensate for this, the narcissist imposes extreme rigidity on himself, on his missing self, on his inner landscape, on his internal objects, extreme discipline, Prussian rigidity.

And so this prevents the narcissist from acting, from improvising, from acting on the fly, from being reactive to changing challenges, environments, countervailing information and so on.

Narcissist is therefore unlikely to be moral, because morality is the exercise of judgment in changing circumstances, so as to restore good and to avoid or undo evil.

The German phrase is "Gut Verewauk". So the narcissist doesn't have this.

The psychopath has the capacity for this, but doesn't care to exercise it, because he holds the very question of morality in complete disdain. He holds people and the institutions they create in their societies and cultures in the most profound contempt imaginable.

The psychopath's life, as Havi Kleckley has observed, is about rejection. Psychopathy could easily be renamed rejection disorder or rejecting personality disorder. Psychopath rejects.

The narcissist withdraws. The narcissist avoids reality. Narcissist escapes into fantasy. It's a rigid fantasy, isn't it, and trapped in the fantasy. He is the hostage of the fantasy and therefore is unable to act morally in changing social environments and in accordance with ever shifting demands.

He is a kaleidoscope inside, but the narcissist is never kaleidoscopic outside.

The psychopath, on the other hand, has the capacity to act, to play act, to pretend, to fake, and he often does.

But he would never act truly morally. Ultimately, even when the psychopath acts morally, it's bound to be for an immoral end, for an amoral goal, something devoid of morality or criminal.

The narcissist is incapable of acting morally even if he wanted to.

So in some ironic way, the narcissist is even more amoral than the psychopath, although the narcissist is less immoral and much less criminalized than the psychopath.

This is a rigid fantasy, psychological topography, that is solipsistic.

The narcissist is the only denizen in his own demented fantasy, and the psychopath is the only person endowed with rights which impose commensurate obligations of others.

No one else is equal to the psychopath.

No one else deserves the same treatment, consideration. No one else is entitled to the way the psychopath is.

The narcissist is also entitled, but not the way the psychopath is.

A narcissist would try to cajole, to coerce, to convince, to persuade, to bribe other people, to manipulate them somehow, into providing him with what he needs under his conception of entitlement.

The psychopath would just kill people, just simply trample over them, destroy them. He wouldn't bother to manipulate them or to just go ahead and take what he wants, utterly disregarding any opposition, crushing everything in his way.

So Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development was the first attempt to provide a comprehensive stage theory of moral development.

Ericsson, I've dealt with Ericsson in a video which I posted a few days ago by the way, Ericsson's proposed an eight stage lifespan development theory.

Kohlberg confined himself to moral development. And relied very heavily about John Piaget's theory of moral judgment in children.

Some work that Piaget published in 1932. The problem I have with both Piaget and Kohlberg is that these are, their work is cognitive. They rely 100% on cognition. There is no place in Kohlberg's theory to emotions.

It's as if emotions don't play a role in morality. Morality is the derivative of a thinking process.

Morality is a kind of decision, kind of choice. People analyze rationally, whether some behavior is right or wrong, rewarding or punishing.

I mean, likely to yield a reward or likely to lead to punishment. People are very rational, optimizing agents. People are not like that.

And morality is definitely not like that.

I would even venture to say that morality is much more emotional, informed much more by emotions than by cognitions, which would explain why narcissists and psychopaths don't have any morality. None whatsoever.

Not even a hint. Not even a whip. A whiff. Not even a wisp. Not even a tendril of morality. Nothing there.

One of the main reasons for this is that they have no emotions.

The psychopath and the narcissist are able to access only negative emotions, especially the narcissist.

Envy, anger, rage, hatred, negative affectivity.

Morality is constructed on mostly positive affectivity, such as love.

The emotional correlates of empathy and so on.

Some negative affectivity feeds into morality, for example, righteous indignation or emotional reactions to justice, something that Colbert neglected in his work, although his work is founded on the concept of justice.

In Colbert's work, justice is totally cognitive, which is not true. Anyone who has been in a court of law knows that justice is mostly emotional, not cognitive.

Narcissists don't do emotions, so they don't do morality, so they don't do justice, so they don't do other people and other people's needs and wishes and dreams and priorities and preferences and, above all, other people's rights.

Other people don't exist for them. They don't exist for them.

As far as the psychopath is concerned, other people are instruments or obstacles. As far as the narcissist is concerned, other people are internal objects. They're either idealized or devalued, the secretary. That's all.

End of story. There's nothing else.

So, Colbert's emphasis on how one chooses, decides cognitively, rationally, to respond to a moral dilemma is very lacking. It misses the element of emotion, but it also misses the element of actual action, behavioral choices.

So, there's a lot to argue with in Colbert's work. There have been many criticisms of his studies that, for example, they are male-oriented. He didn't bother to talk to girls, only to boys. It's founded only on justice and not, for example, on caring or compassion or empathy and so on and so forth.

So, there's a lot of criticism of his work. I would advise you to look at the work of Carl Gilligan, for example, if you want to go further.

I want to summarize for you, Colbert's stages once again.

The pre-conventional level, children accept the authority and the moral code of others. If an action leads to punishment, it must be bad. If it leads to a reward, it must be good.

There is also a sense in which decisions concerning what is good are defined in terms of what is good for us. The conventional, children believe that social rules and the expectations of other people determine what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. A social system that stresses the responsibilities of relationships and social order is seen as desirable and must therefore influence our views of right and wrong.

Finally, the post-conventional level. Right is based on an individual's understanding of universal ethical principles. What is considered morally acceptable in any given situation is determined by what is the response most in keeping with these universal principles.

One could say that at the pre-conventional level, there's only the self norms are recognized only in line with blind egoism, with something self-oriented. And again, because the narcissist fails to constantly to integrate the self, fails to come up with an ego, ego formation is disrupted.

Of course, there's a failure in stage one. And then stage two is to see that others have goals and preferences, that your actions and choices and decisions either conform or deviate from specific norms.

And again, there's a failure as the narcissist fails to recognize the existence and separateness and externality of others. And the psychopath doesn't care about others.

Stage three is to recognize good and bad intentions. And it's while stage two is instrumental egoism, stage three is totally social, it's social relationships perspective, but the psychopath rejects society and the narcissist is unable to recognize its existence because it is comprised of external objects.

Stage four is to be able to see abstract normative systems, social systems perspective. And that is of course beyond the can in the capacity of psychopaths and narcissists.

Stage five is to recognize that contracts allow people to increase welfare of everyone involved. Contracts are good for everyone. It's a contractual perspective or transactional perspective. Psychopaths don't do contracts. Psychopaths do hostile takeover. Psychopaths do conquests. Psychopaths do invasions. Psychopathy psychopathy is externalized aggression. It doesn't contract. It's not transactional. Narcissists are unable to transact, even though they want to very much. And even though the shared fantasy appears artificially, superficially from the outside appears to be contractual or transactional. It's not because the narcissist interacts only with himself and with the internal objects in his mind. So he is unable to strike a deal. He's unable to sign a contract to commit himself to an agreement with others because he doesn't recognize the existence of others. They are external objects beyond his ability to realize their separateness, their externality, and their agency which gives them the right and the capacity to sign contracts.

And finally, stage six is to see how human fallibility and frailty are impacted by communication, mutual respect as a universal principle, the equality of everyone morally, not intellectually, not money-wise, but morally.

This is, of course, beyond the reach of most people, not only narcissists.

So level one is about obedience. It's about it's a punishment orientation. How can I avoid punishment?

Level two is self-interest orientation. What's in it for me? Paying for a benefit.

Level two is conventional. So there's an interpersonal accord and conformity, social norms. The good boy, good girl attitude.

Then there's an issue of authority in stage four, authority in social order maintaining orientation, law and order morality.

Level three, the post-conventional. In the fifth stage, there's a social contract orientation.

The sixth stage is a universal ethical principles, principled conscious orientation.

So this is the picture and this is why there is no way the narcissist or the psychopath could ever develop, could ever develop morality.

As I repeat, many studies demonstrated that each of the stages are cumulative. If a person understands and internalizes stage two, he or she understands the lower stages, but not the next stages, not stage three.

So it's gradual, it's incremental, each stage is built on the foundations of the previous stages. Every individual progresses through the same sequence of development, but the rates of development vary.

When it comes to narcissists and psychopaths, they don't even start. Finally, I would like to discuss William Damon's work.

American psychologist William Damon, he developed a theory that is based on Kohlberg. He focused on analyzed behavioral aspects of moral reasoning, not just the idea, abstract idea of justice and rightness and fairness, but how do people actually behave?

Again, he worked with children, he was experimental. I'm not going into all this. He made a distinction between justice and righteousness, which I think is a very important and very pertinent distinction.

According to Damon, there are six successive levels when it comes to justice. Level one, nothing stops the egocentric tendency. The children want all the toys without feeling the need to justify their preference or to share.

The justice criterion is the wish of the self. Justice is what I want. Might is right.

According to Damon, narcissists are capable to attain this stage.

Level two, the child wants almost all the toys and justifies his choice in an arbitrary or egocentric manner. For example, the child might say, "I should play with them because I have a red dress or their mind because I like them."

Again, the narcissist can reach, can attain this stage.

Level three, the equality criterion emerges. We should all have the same number of toys and we should all share the toys.

This is where narcissists and psychopaths stop. They can never reach this stage. Period.

Psychopath has no concept of sharing and the narcissist has no concept of other people. So there's no need to share. The toys and other people are all internal objects. They're all figments of a paracosm, of virtual reality, of the fantasy of the narcissist. The psychopath just says the hell with it. I'm stuck in stage one and two. I never share.

Level four, according to Damon's work, is the merit criterion. Johnny should take more because he was such a good boy or because he's sick.

Level five, necessity. Necessity becomes the most important selection criterion. She should take the most because she was sick. Give more to Matt because he's poor.

Here, the rudiments of justice and more importantly, fairness emerge.

Level six, the dilemma begins to come up. Can justice be achieved considering only one criterion? The consequence is the combining of criteria.

So very often we make moral judgments and we act morally, moral behavior based on a combination of criteria.

For example, equality and merit. Equality, necessity, necessity and merit and so on and so forth.

Now, there are issues here of logical, cognitive, operational, operationalization, combination of many points of view, allocentrism, I'm not going to all this right now.

Damon regards every human being as capable of some primitive, atavistic moral reasoning. Even psychopaths and narcissists are capable of moral reasoning, however ill-founded. Founded on egocentric tendencies, arbitrary decision making, self-referential rules, I am the law, I decide, I'm the fountain, the source of justice, I'm the arbiter and all this.

Narcissists and psychopaths are capable of this.

And only when we transition to stages three onwards, north, then there's a failure of narcissists and psychopaths. So Damon is more optimistic when it comes to psychopaths and narcissists, because if Damon is right and narcissists and psychopaths have attained stages one and two, there is no reason in principle why they cannot graduate to stages three, four, five and six.

The problem with narcissists and psychopaths, according to Kohlberg and according to Wachman, is that they never even embark on stage one. They never make it to stage one. But Damon says it's wrong. It's not true. They do. They don't make it to stage one and even two.

So there's hope. I'll let you decide. You've had experiences with narcissists. Ask yourself who is right, Kohlberg or Wachman depends, or Damon. Are narcissists totally devoid and psychopaths totally devoid of morality? Or have you seen the narcissists and psychopaths sometimes act morally? And you were shocked and surprised that they did. And then if they did, what was the reasoning behind it? What led them to behave morally? Was it really totally self-interested and egotistical? Was where the actions they took based on their own skewed moral reasoning, were these actions totally one-sided? Arbitrary, as I said, or capricious? Did these actions tell you anything about the narcissist or psychopath in your lives?

This is an area. This is a field which is not very well researched. If you're about to enter the field of clinical psychology with emphasis on cluster B personality disorders, I think this is an emerging field, the morality of narcissists and psychopaths. And it has enormous implications because if narcissists and psychopaths could be induced, could be somehow forced, if you wish, to develop into moral agents. If there could be some kind of catalyst that would push them to become morally competent and to act somehow morally, that would have enormous implications. Social, historical, geopolitical, political, huge implications.

Because narcissists and psychopaths are everywhere. And they're taking over. We'd better find out what kind of morality they're capable of, if at all. And either take steps to defend ourselves, or somehow design a program to allow them to evolve and progress and become ultimately the moral agents which they are not and never have been.

Summary of Kohlberg's stages of moral development from the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Kohlberg, as I said, completed his work in 1958.

Level one, pre-conventional level. At the pre-conventional level, morality is externally controlled. Rules imposed by authority figures are conformed to in order to avoid punishment or receive rewards. This perspective involves the idea that what is right is what one can get away with or what is personally satisfying.

Level one has two stages.

Stage one, punishment, obedience orientation. Behavior is determined by consequences. The individual will obey in order to avoid punishment.

Stage two, instrumental purpose orientation. Behavior is determined again by consequences. The individual focuses on receiving rewards or satisfying personal needs.

Level two, conventional level. At the conventional level, conformity to social rules remains important to the individual. However, the emphasis shifts from self-interest to relationships with other people and social systems. The individual strives to support rules that are set forth by others such as parents, peers, and the government in order to win their approval or to maintain social order. Stage three, good boy, nice girl orientation. Behavior is determined by social approval. The individual wants to maintain or win the affection and approval of others by being a good person. Stage four, law and order orientation. Social rules and laws determine behavior. The individual now takes into consideration a larger perspective, that of societal laws. Moral decision making becomes more than consideration of close ties to others. The individual believes that rules and laws maintain social order that is worth preserving. Level three, post-conventional or principled level. At the post-conventional level, the individual moves beyond the perspective of his or her own society. Morality is defined in terms of abstract principles and values that apply to all situations and societies. The individual attempts to take the perspective of all individuals.

Stage five, social contract orientation. Individual rights determine behavior. The individual views laws and rules as flexible tools for improving human purposes. That is, given the right situation, there are exceptions to rules. When laws are not consistent with individual rights and the interests of the majority, they do not bring about good for people and alternatives should be considered.

Stage six, universal ethical principle orientation. According to Kollberg, this is the highest stage of functioning. However, he claimed that some individuals will never reach this level. At this stage, the appropriate action is determined by one's self-chosen ethical principles of conscience. These principles are abstract and universal in application. This type of reasoning involves taking the perspective of every person or group that could potentially be affected by the decision.

Basic tenets of Kollberg's theory. The numerous studies investigating moral reasoning based on Kollberg's theory have confirmed basic tenets regarding the topic area. Cross-sectional data have shown that other individuals tend to use higher stages of moral reasoning when compared to younger individuals, while longitudinal studies report upward progression in according with Kollberg's theoretical order of stages. In addition, studies have revealed that comprehension of the stages is cumulative.

Example given, if a person understands stage three, he or she understands the lower stages, but not necessarily the higher stages. And comprehension of higher stages is increasingly difficult. Moreover, age trends in moral development have received cross-cultural support.

Lastly, data support the claim that every individual progresses through the same sequence of development, however, that rates of development will vary. ###

If you enjoyed this article, you might like the following:

Politics as Conspiracy

The discussion covers the prevalence and impact of conspiracy theories, including their psychological and societal aspects. It delves into the role of social media and cognitive biases in reinforcing these beliefs, as well as the influence of conspiracy theories on modern psychology. The text also touches on the concept of false selves and the need to make sense of an uncertain world.

Arrested Empathy: Instinctual, Emotional Cognitive, and Cold Empathy

Sam Vaknin discusses the model of empathy, suggesting it is three-partite and develops in children in three phases. He explains that narcissists and psychopaths lack empathy and may possess "cold empathy," which is devoid of compassion and emotional connection. Vaknin also explores the decline of empathy in society and its impact on social behavior and mental health. He argues that empathy is more important socially than psychologically and that its absence predisposes people to exploit and abuse others.

Narcissist and YOU: Tour the Nightmare (with Monique Rigney)

The text is a conversation between two individuals discussing various topics, including narcissism, memory, and societal issues. They touch on the impact of trauma on memory, the role of victimhood in society, and the decline of human interaction in the digital age. The conversation also delves into the impact of feminism and the changing dynamics between men and women.

Furious Debate: Edwin Rutsch and Sam Vaknin on Empathy

Sam Vaknin, a diagnosed psychopathic narcissist and expert on narcissism, discusses empathy with Edwin Rutch from the Centre for Building a Culture of Empathy. Vaknin explains the two components of empathy, cold empathy and emotional arousal, and argues that while emotional arousal may be innate, the intersubjective component is learned. He also discusses the challenges of understanding and sharing emotions with others, and the differences between narcissism and psychopathy. Vaknin believes that individuals with narcissism and psychopathy are unlikely to develop empathy and that society's values may be promoting these traits.

MD (Most Dangerous) Narcissists of All: Medical Doctors, Physicians

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the dangers of narcissistic medical doctors and physicians. He explains that narcissistic doctors are overrepresented in the medical profession and are prone to cognitive distortions and behavioral dysfunctions that can harm patients. These doctors consider themselves infallible, confabulate, resist learning, and are hyper-vigilant and vindictive. Vaknin advises patients to seek multiple opinions, rely on common sense and intuition, and choose evidence-based practices. He also warns against the dangers of trusting narcissistic doctors and emphasizes the importance of being assertive and thorough in seeking medical care.

Fascism is Political Malignant Narcissism (Brussels Morning)

Sam Vaknin discusses the accusation that Donald Trump is leading the United States towards fascism. He argues that it is important to address narcissists in politics and prevent them from attaining power. Vaknin delves into the characteristics and tensions within fascist movements, and concludes that Trump exhibits traits of a fascist.

What’s Wrong with Our Dystopian World (Starts at 05:56)

The text is a rant about the state of the world, discussing various societal issues and expressing dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. It covers topics such as internet stickiness, narcissistic behavior, societal norms, censorship, and the decline of traditional values. The author expresses a bleak outlook on the future of humanity and the world.

Narcissism’s Enemies: God, Work, Family (Prophets of Narcissism: Christopher Lasch, 1979, (lecture)

The lecture discusses Christopher Lasch and his views on narcissism, the decline of society, and the role of religion. Lasch criticizes capitalism, consumerism, and the intellectual elite, advocating for a return to traditional values and religious faith. He also discusses the impact of progress and the decline of religion on society. The lecture ends with a preview of the next lecture in the series.

Psychotic Grandiosity: The Case of Jesus "Christ", Narcissist

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the psychology and potential psychopathology of Jesus Christ, suggesting that he may have been a narcissist. He supports this claim by analyzing passages from the Gospel of Saint Matthew, highlighting instances of Jesus' grandiosity, lack of empathy, and manipulative behavior. Vaknin concludes that Jesus' narcissism ultimately led to his downfall, as people grew tired of his overbearing presence and destructive influence.

Emotional Flashbacks of Gaslighting Empaths and Other Ignorant Nonsense (Compilation)

Professor Sam Vaknin discusses the concepts of empathy and gaslighting, criticizing the use of the term "empath" as a self-aggrandizing label with no clinical significance. He asserts that everyone has empathy, including narcissists and psychopaths, who possess a form of "cold empathy." Vaknin warns that individuals who claim to have met their "twin flame" are likely being groomed by a narcissist or psychopath through a process of idealized mirroring and identification, which leads to self-infatuation and a shared fantasy with cult-like features. He explains that the "twin flame" becomes a surrogate parental figure and a false self, regressing the individual to an infantile state of dependency and fusion, ultimately compromising their identity and autonomy. Vaknin advises against adopting the label of "empath" as it reinforces the abuser's control and impedes personal growth and healing.

Transcripts Copyright © Sam Vaknin 2010-2024, under license to William DeGraaf
Website Copyright © William DeGraaf 2022-2024
Get it on Google Play
Privacy policy