Bioethics Blogs

So You Want to be a “Successful” Psychopath?

The following post is part of a special series emerging from Contemporary Issues in Neuroethics, a graduate-level course out of Emory University’s Center for Ethics.

Within the past two years, the media has followed the recent turn toward exploring the characteristics of a “successful” psychopath. A simple Google search on “successful psychopathy” now renders a slew of attention-grabbing articles ranging from How to Protect Yourself from a Successful Psychopath to Why Psychopaths are More Successful to Is Your Boss a Psychopath? Together, these articles reference some of America’s more fascinating psychopathic fictional characters, such as Dexter, Jordan Belfort from The Wolf of Wall Street, and Frank Underwood from House of Cards, to create a case for an adaptive psychopath. The recent discussion about the successful psychopathic personality in the media most certainly raises questions about the nature of psychopathy and the ethical implications of concluding that some psychopathic tendencies may be adaptive.

From iDigitalTimes

Before delving into the nuances of successful psychopathy, one must first understand the basic characteristics of psychopathy more generally. Psychopathic personality, or psychopathy, is a disorder often characterized by a constellation of affective, interpersonal, and behavioral deficits. Psychopaths have been known to be especially callous, cold-hearted, impulsive, and superficially charming. This subset of people has also often been characterized as not possessing empathy and as unable to feel remorse for their actions. Criminal anthropologist Havelock Ellis (1890) portrayed psychopaths as “instinctive criminal[s]” and “moral monsters” (p.2.). Furthermore, in his pioneering work The Mask of Sanity, Hervey Cleckley (1941) described a psychopath as unable to “accept substantial blame for the various misfortunes which befall him and which he brings down upon others” (p.

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