Narcissism, Narcissists, and Abusive Relationships - Epistolary Dialog

Letter I

Letter II

Letter III

Letter IV

Letter V

Letter VI

Letter VII

Letter VIII

Letter IX

Letter X

Letter XI

Letter XII

©Stephen McDonnell and Sam Vaknin

All text is copyrighted and is published here with the permission of the authors.

Malignant Self Love - Buy the Book - Click HERE!!!

Relationships with Abusive Narcissists - Buy the e-Books - Click HERE!!!

Thursday, February 17, 2005, Letter Ten to Sam Vaknin from Stephen McDonnell

After you read Stephen's Letter - Click here to read Sam's Response

Dear Sam,

You asked me the following questions:

1.Are narcissists intrinsically evil?

2.Should mental health professionals involve moral judgment in their work?

An article I sent you on discussions at the most recent meeting of the American Psychiatry Association sparked these questions. Several news reports came out of this meeting, for a February 8, 2005 article devoted to Evil with links -go here:

The New York Times > Health > Mental Health

No doubt you have read what Dr. Peck wrote about malignant narcissists and evil.

Here is an interesting commentary on that:

The Psychology of Evil 

In my mind's eye I envision a bunch of psychiatrists discussing evil, and trying to formulate a range of evil. It would go from micro to macro, and have degrees of harm I suppose. They also questioned their ability to make moral judgments on evil. Many of those present have treated some very sick people. It must be disturbing for them to see into the blackness of the human psyche and they probably want to know the how and why of evil. So do I. You want to know if a narcissist is fated to be evil as if a narcissist is the only one capable of evil.

Let us explore.

No doubt I could fill a volume on morals, morality, good and evil, selfishness and altruism, but to what end? A wise woman told me once that there is not right and wrong but only "right and real". Reality is where moral judgment and common sense meet. Does this mean the end justifies the means? Is there a range of good and evil? Is this a way of excusing ourselves and others? Is this a 'slippery slope' that we are told will lead to damnation? Do NPDs see issues in binary fashion, good and evil, right and wrong? Should we as 'normal humans' judge others who do not have the same set of mental filters that allow us to judge others (He who has not sinned should throw the first stone.)? We have different rules for children (in the legal system) as well as for animals, so why no give a little slack to NPDs and others who suffer from mental disease? He or she was mentally deranged when they committed the crime or crimes - so innocent by insanity? Where does one draw the line? What is evil? I have written extensively on my site about this, but why not address it again?

Definition of evil:


1. Profoundly immoral or wrong

2. Deliberately causing great harm, pain, or upset

3. Connected with the Devil or other powerful destructive forces

4. Characterized by, bringing, or signifying bad luck

5. Characterized by a desire to cause hurt or harm

6. Very unpleasant Noun

1. The quality of being profoundly immoral or wrong

2. The force held to bring about harmful, painful, or unpleasant events

3. A situation or thing that is very unpleasant, harmful, or morally wrong Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation.

The quote I like to use concerning the harm of evil is the following:

Half the harm that is done in this world Is due to people who want to feel important They don't mean to do harm - but the harm does not interest them.

Or they do not see it, or they justify it Because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.

T. S. Eliot

The human being is endowed with intelligence and arguably a moral compass that enables most people to tell right from wrong, and to have empathy for others. Even with this moral compass - the conscious - there is no guarantee that what we do will produce 'good' as fate likes to play tricks on people who are right and righteous. Let me illustrate my point by giving you some outrageous examples.

1. Water in Bangladesh is polluted. A UN program was developed and carried out to drill wells and install pumps to reach the water table and produce clean water. After much fanfare trumpeting the good work of the well water/pump program it was discovered that this water was contaminated with lethal amounts of lead. It is now recommended that the people boil their polluted water and not use the well water.

2. In High school one of my Jewish friends astounded me when he said that his Rabbi had declared to the congregation that Hitler had saved the Jews. He went on to explain that European Jewry was becoming assimilated before WWII and the holocaust produced a renewed interest in the faith and a renewal.

3. US Millionaire Jim Rogers (co founder of the Quantum fund with George Soros, and whom Time magazine called "the Indiana Jones of finance") predicts that Asian women will be wielding incredible political and economic power in10 years from now due to the selection of male fetuses by echo imaging and aborting female fetuses. The disequilibrium in the sex ratios in Asian countries will eventually place surviving women into a position to choose. (National Post Business, February 2005)

Perhaps these are examples of survival of the fittest - the path to Hell is paved with good intentions - yet in each case there were decisions made wisely or with evil intent, which produced (or may produce) different results than expected. They are also examples of the impact of decisions on large populations. Today the Kyoto Protocol went into effect but the alleged largest contributor to global warming did not sign it so it may produce no or negative results. Or maybe not. Maybe it is too late to even stop the warming trend - some people do not believe in it anyway.

A few people who think they know what is best for others sometimes precipitate large-scale events. What if these people are psychopaths, or suffering from NPD, we could attribute the eventual good or bad to them. But who decides what is good or bad, the winners? With historical distance, it is obvious that genocide was carried out in the Americas by colonial and postcolonial governments against the native populations. In modern day Africa the AIDS epidemic will surely wipe out a huge amount of the population. Wars and local terrorist attacks are taking place all over the world, perpetuated by people who believe they are right. Whole populations go on rampages of killing and torture, take the case of Rwanda, motivated by the feeling that they are justified.

Looking at history, one can say that evil is endemic to humankind, couldn't we? But is that true? Is there a way of measuring 'evil' in large populations?

In military science, the art of killing is difficult to teach. In fact most soldiers in the battlefield never shoot, and if they do, they miss their human targets. People have to be trained to kill. The occasional psychopath enjoys it, because he has no empathy for his victim. Most people have to be brain washed into hating. Most people have feelings and care for their fellow human being. Perhaps evil is innate to humans, but is not commonly manifest and it requires an outside agency to provoke it. Fear of danger, moral debauchery, drugs, mental disease You get the picture.

Macro to micro evil:

Last week I was listening to a group of people who were discussing altruism and Jesus Christ. One person remarked that it would be hard to recognize God if He walked amongst us, whereby the narcissist in the group pointed to himself and declared, "Just look at me." It was a not surprising that he would say that, but the most unusual thing about the discussion group was the silence of the other narcissists. Morality, religion and good and evil make them uncomfortable. Unless they are the ones dictating it.

Years ago a TV evangelist was caught with his pants down visiting prostitutes; this same person had been railing against sin and sodomy, yet he felt he was above morality. In my email box I found a message from a preacher who had been referred to it, and he went on to say one had to obey the Bible etc. which led me to believe he was setting himself up as the ultimate arbitrator with God like powers. I wasn't surprised. A web site I found long time ago was dedicated to preachers who suffered from NPD and how to recognize them. After watching a TV documentary on the sexologist Dr.Kinsey I came to the conclusion that he was projecting onto the rest of the world his vision, and in some cases it was alleged that he doctored his research. He encouraged sexuality and freedom from sexual repression to the point where his assistants and wife were in an entangled relationship. Again, the rules were broken and then rewritten to fit another person's vision. What type of person likes to rewrite the rules? A narcissist?

Who comes up with rules of morality?

There are possibly three ways that we develop morality.

A) If one believes the Judeo Christian bible, humanity (in the guise of Eve) ate from the tree of knowledge and learned how to tell right from wrong. This had been reserved for God and the Devil. It seems like a very paltry gift to eat an apple - feel shame at your nakedness and only be able to know good and evil.

B) If we look at the parallel of Darwinian evolution, humans are naked and developed a sense of morality. Either way, we are moral beings. Animals have the instincts to survive. I doubt if animals have anything approaching our moral values, or even a need for them. Morality may even be counter-productive to survival of humans.

(continued below)

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube


C) Humans have morals when they exercise that part of the brain that deals with moral judgment. The famous case in Vermont of Phineas Gage whose temporal lobes were damaged in a freak accident and who personality changed, may point us towards an anatomical basis for morality if not personality (lots of pages on the web devoted to this). The whole history of lobotomy and of ECT is morbidly interesting, with a new chapter being written using local electromagnetic impulses to bring about cures.

One wonderful image I hold on to about how humans differ from animals is the scene in the science fiction novel DUNE, where the Bene Gesserit (a kind of female Jesuit order) are testing the hero by having him put his hand into a box that causes him intolerable pain. If he can master the pain, something that animals are unable to do, the he will pass the test and be considered 'human', if he withdraws his hand he will be considered an animal and they will kill him. Frank Herbert had a Darwinian view of the future, where people would evolve and develop super powers, yet he endowed them with human faults; they were not perfect. They would have to use their moral judgment, and evil would still exist, evolving as narcissist-like villains.

One of the sayings from DUNE that I recall when faced with an invasive and destructive narcissist is this: "Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

The Bible also says, "I will fear no evil." Is this because evil exists? Or is it our view of the world/people as good and evil? Or should we rather say, I will fear no NPD?

Where do narcissists come into the picture of evil?

On your web pages devoted to Narcissistic Personality Disorders, you divide NPDs into cerebral and the somatic. Then you go on to subdivide them into thinner slices of types, but it is the same basic cake we are talking about. Or should I say apple?

In my dealings with NPDs I have seen many kinds, of different sexes, races and religions. They also vary in intelligence. They seem to all have a "native" cunning that enables them to find out who can be manipulated and used to supply them with admiration and amusement. They all project a superior air, as if they are not the normal run of the mill human being. Yet they will debase themselves if necessary and mix with common people, charming them with their wit. But only if they feel the necessity, and only if it is worth their time and effort. These are bottom line people. Zero sum economics - not altruism - reigns in the NPD mind. You lose, they win, end of game. To see narcissists in a moral light is specious. Their victims make excuses for them, trying to 'understand' using their own moral gauges. They respect brute force or people who turn the tables on them; because you enter into their moral-less domain of playing. By debasing yourself - by playing by their rules - they win.

There are exceptions to this rule. They can teach you some very valuable lessons. A narcissist woman taught me how to lie. She showed me that if you suspend your humanity, if you only care about the outcome and could care less about who gets hurt, then you are able to play a better hand of poker. In brinkmanship, when you are faced with a more powerful foe, lying is a powerful weapon. You lie by simply showing you are not afraid. You can hypnotize yourself into believing that you can do some impossible task, or change your life style. This is what NPDs do on a daily basis - self-hypnosis. They also take the terrible feelings they have for themselves and foist it on others. This shedding of emotional detritus is useful for normal people, if they can do it without involving others. The narcissist uses other people (victims) as garbage bins for their emotional offal.

For years I wondered about the antics and motivations of certain people. It was easy to dismiss them as simply characters, clowns, etc; the more powerful were not so easy to ignore. Once you are involved with them by choice or by birth, the web of their deceits is a reality, eventually you sympathize with them, their enemy is your enemy because the narcissist is always right and the other person, persons, or society in general, don't understand the narcissist. Once you join the NPD 'gang' you have to toe the line. What they say goes. It is the law. You may find yourself doing things you never thought possible, both legal and illegal, if you accept to ride in the roller coaster ride of their reality. (Manic Depressives also suffer this up and down type of life.)

You may think that you can put on the brakes and get off. But when you do, they, the narcissists, will hit you with guilt and their gang will reject you. So how did this happen? It may have started off with a simple handshake, and when you looked into their eyes they either looked very sincere or they avoided your look. They are wonderful at first, charming and amusing, and they compliment you, even make you feel important. The charm stage will last to you are hooked. If you are lucky they may pick you as their favorite; such attention is actually positive as long as it doesn't go to your head. In the movie "The Talented Mr. Ripley", a girlfriend says that you feel like you are in a spot light, basking in their love and attention powerful and addictive. When it is over you will feel empty as if they stole part of your soul. You have made a pact with the devil, and in the end you are left with the taste of ashes in your mouth for all those days, months, years of spending time under their influence.

You feel victimized, though you have this guilty inkling that you were part of the game and even enjoyed it. Like the people who go up to a booth at a carnival and start to play with the hope of winning, you want to believe it is not a rigged game, and that you can win. The narcissist loves to make you feel that way, as if you can win with them, but disabuse your self of that thought. No one wins with narcissists, only the therapist who treats the victims.

The victim has made a fool of themselves and is traumatized, you receive hundreds of emails from them and how many of these broken relationships end up in court? How many victims go on to live full lives, or do they commit emotional and even physical suicide? Are they forever damaged goods? The narcissist feels nothing; like a light that goes on and off, narcissists have binary emotions, so feel no pain or guilt for what they do. Sam, I think that you are the first narcissist I have ever known who has shown some sort of sincere remorse, if at least a cognizance of what you are and have done.

They are dynamic leaders, charismatic, and impressive and if they have the intelligence and good sense, they will succeed where others fail. Often they are ' legends in their own mind' ending up as tin dictators who want to control their families, friends, and neighborhoods. Only when they become bullies do they pose a real physical threat. On the emotional field of life, they use whatever it takes to get what they want. They come across as know it alls, giving advice on all subjects, which may lead the unwary victims to their ruin.

When I introduced a friend to a NPD woman, he was bamboozled and told me how charming she was; from some recess of my subconscious came this reply, "Hitler was charming too!"

It seems to me that someone who is evil or good must first have some sense of morality. Are narcissists immoral or amoral? Do they feel pain if they hurt someone, or do they only feel pain for themselves? Do they only have empathy for themselves? In my book, a thin one that contains a few rules of conduct, I feel that the lack of empathy leads to harm. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is a wonderful moral statement that may well have been aimed at NPDs.

Sam responds:

You hit the narcissist ... er ... the nail on the head. The root problem, the cause of most if not all narcissistic behaviors is a pronounced lack of empathy. Indeed, morality and possessing a moral sense are not possible without empathy!

Following your clue, I have decided to dedicate the bulk of my response to the convoluted issue of empathy.

But first, are narcissists inherently evil?

In his bestselling "People of the Lie", Scott Peck claims that they are.

I agree with you that the concept of "evil" in this age of moral relativism is slippery and ambiguous. The "Oxford Companion to Philosophy" (Oxford University Press, 1995) defines it thus: "The suffering which results from morally wrong human choices."

To qualify as evil a person (Moral Agent) must meet these requirements:

  1. That he can and does consciously choose between the (morally) right and wrong and constantly and consistently prefers the latter;
  2. That he acts on his choice irrespective of the consequences to himself and to others.

Clearly, evil must be premeditated. Francis Hutcheson and Joseph Butler argued that evil is a by-product of the pursuit of one's interest or cause at the expense of other people's interests or causes. But this ignores the critical element of conscious choice among equally efficacious alternatives. Moreover, people often pursue evil even when it jeopardizes their well-being and obstructs their interests. Sadomasochists even relish this orgy of mutual assured destruction.

Narcissists satisfy both conditions only partly. Their evil is utilitarian. They are evil only when being malevolent secures a certain outcome. Sometimes, they consciously choose the morally wrong – but not invariably so. They act on their choice even if it inflicts misery and pain on others. But they never opt for evil if they are to bear the consequences. They act maliciously because it is expedient to do so – not because it is "in their nature".

The narcissist is able to tell right from wrong and to distinguish between good and evil. In the pursuit of his interests and causes, he sometimes chooses to act wickedly. Lacking empathy, the narcissist is rarely remorseful. Because he feels entitled, exploiting others is second nature. The narcissist abuses others absent-mindedly, off-handedly, as a matter of fact.

The narcissist objectifies people and treats them as expendable commodities to be discarded after use. Admittedly, that, in itself, is evil. Yet, it is the mechanical, thoughtless, heartless face of narcissistic abuse – devoid of human passions and of familiar emotions – that renders it so alien, so frightful and so repellent.

We are often shocked less by the actions of narcissist than by the way he acts. In the absence of a vocabulary rich enough to capture the subtle hues and gradations of the spectrum of narcissistic depravity, we default to habitual adjectives such as "good" and "evil". Such intellectual laziness does this pernicious phenomenon and its victims little justice.

Read Ann Bradley's view on this very issue.

But, why are we fascinated by Evil and Evildoers and are inexorably attracted to them, as you describe?

The common explanation is that one is fascinated with evil and evildoers because, through them, one vicariously expresses the repressed, dark, and evil parts of one's own personality. Evildoers, according to this theory, represent the "shadow" nether lands of our selves and, thus, they constitute our antisocial alter egos. Being drawn to wickedness is an act of rebellion against social strictures and the crippling bondage that is modern life. It is a mock synthesis of our Dr. Jekyll with our Mr. Hyde. It is a cathartic exorcism of our inner demons.

Yet, even a cursory examination of this account reveals its flaws.

Far from being taken as a familiar, though suppressed, element of our psyche, evil is mysterious. Though preponderant, villains are often labeled "monsters" - abnormal, even supernatural aberrations. It took Hanna Arendt two thickset tomes to remind us that evil is banal and bureaucratic, not fiendish and omnipotent.

In our minds, evil and magic are intertwined. Sinners seem to be in contact with some alternative reality where the laws of Man are suspended. Sadism, however deplorable, is also admirable because it is the reserve of Nietzsche's Supermen, an indicator of personal strength and resilience. A heart of stone lasts longer than its carnal counterpart.

Throughout human history, ferocity, mercilessness, and lack of empathy were extolled as virtues and enshrined in social institutions such as the army and the courts. The doctrine of Social Darwinism and the advent of moral relativism and deconstruction did away with ethical absolutism. The thick line between right and wrong thinned and blurred and, sometimes, vanished.

Evil nowadays is merely another form of entertainment, a species of pornography, a sanguineous art. Evildoers enliven our gossip, color our drab routines and extract us from dreary existence and its depressive correlates. It is a little like collective self-injury. Self-mutilators report that parting their flesh with razor blades makes them feel alive and reawakened. In this synthetic universe of ours, evil and gore permit us to get in touch with real, raw, painful life.

The higher our desensitized threshold of arousal, the more profound the evil that fascinates us. Like the stimuli-addicts that we are, we increase the dosage and consume added tales of malevolence and sinfulness and immorality. Thus, in the role of spectators, we safely maintain our sense of moral supremacy and self-righteousness even as we wallow in the minutest details of the vilest crimes.

I think that narcissists are not evil. But they sure are evildoers. You can DO evil without BEING evil. Insane people are like that, as you so correctly point out. Narcissists are MORALLY INSANE.

I believe that narcissists commit evil deeds for two reasons:

I. They lack empathy

II. They suppress their emotions and true self.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1999 edition) defines empathy as:

"The ability to imagine oneself in anther's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modelled on "sympathy." The term is used with special (but not exclusive) reference to aesthetic experience. The most obvious example, perhaps, is that of the actor or singer who genuinely feels the part he is performing. With other works of art, a spectator may, by a kind of introjection, feel himself involved in what he observes or contemplates. The use of empathy is an important part of the counselling technique developed by the American psychologist Carl Rogers."

Empathy is predicated upon and must, therefore, incorporate the following elements:

  1. Imagination which is dependent on the ability to imagine;
  2. The existence of an accessible Self (self-awareness or self-consciousness);
  3. The existence of an available other (other-awareness, recognizing the outside world);
  4. The existence of accessible feelings, desires, ideas and representations of actions or their outcomes both in the empathizing Self ("Empathor") and in the Other, the object of empathy ("Empathee");
  5. The availability of an aesthetic frame of reference;
  6. The availability of a moral frame of reference.

While (a) is presumed to be universally available to all agents (though in varying degrees) - the existence of the other components of empathy should not be taken for granted.

Conditions (b) and (c), for instance, are not satisfied by people who suffer from personality disorders, such as the Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Condition (d) is not met in autistic people (e.g., those who suffer from the Asperger syndrome). Conditions (e) is so totally dependent on the specifics of the culture, period and society in which it exists - that it is rather meaningless and ambiguous as a yardstick. Condition (f) suffer from both afflictions: it is both culture-dependent AND is not satisfied in many people (such as those who suffer from the Antisocial Personality Disorder and who are devoid of any conscience or moral sense).

Thus, the very existence of empathy should be questioned. It is often confused with inter-subjectivity. The latter is defined thus by "The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, 1995":

"This term refers to the status of being somehow accessible to at least two (usually all, in principle) minds or 'subjectivities'. It thus implies that there is some sort of communication between those minds; which in turn implies that each communicating minds aware not only of the existence of the other but also of its intention to convey information to the other. The idea, for theorists, is that if subjective processes can be brought into agreement, then perhaps that is as good as the (unattainable?) status of being objective - completely independent of subjectivity. The question facing such theorists is whether intersubjectivity is definable without presupposing an objective environment in which communication takes place (the 'wiring' from subject A to subject B). At a less fundamental level, however, the need for intersubjective verification of scientific hypotheses has been long recognized". (page 414).

On the face of it, the difference between intersubjectivity and empathy is double:

  1. Intersubjectivity requires an EXPLICIT, communicated agreement between at least two subjects.
  2. It involves EXTERNAL things (so called "objective" entities).

These "differences" are artificial. This how empathy is defined in "Psychology - An Introduction (Ninth Edition) by Charles G. Morris, Prentice Hall, 1996":

"Closely related to the ability to read other people's emotions is empathy - the arousal of an emotion in an observer that is a vicarious response to the other person's situation... Empathy depends not only on one's ability to identify someone else's emotions but also on one's capacity to put oneself in the other person's place and to experience an appropriate emotional response. Just as sensitivity to non-verbal cues increases with age, so does empathy: The cognitive and perceptual abilities required for empathy develop only as a child matures... (page 442)

In empathy training, for example, each member of the couple is taught to share inner feelings and to listen to and understand the partner's feelings before responding to them. The empathy technique focuses the couple's attention on feelings and requires that they spend more time listening and less time in rebuttal." (page 576).

Thus empathy does require the communication of feelings AND an agreement on the appropriate outcome of the communicated emotions (=affective agreement). In the absence of such agreement, we are faced with inappropriate affect (laughing at a funeral, for instance).

Moreover, empathy does relate to external objects and is provoked by them. There is no empathy in the absence of an empathee. Granted, intersubjectivity is intuitively applied to the inanimate while empathy is applied to the living (animals, humans, even plants). But this is a difference in human preferences - not in definition.

Empathy can, thus, be re-defined as a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as "objects" to which the communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is wrong to limit empathy to the communication of emotion. It is the intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only with the empathee's emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).

This leads to the important (and perhaps intractable) psychophysical question.

Intersubjectivity relates to external objects but the subjects communicate and reach an agreement regarding the way THEY have been affected by the objects.

Empathy relates to external objects (the Others) but the subjects communicate and reach an agreement regarding the way THEY would have felt had they BEEN the object.

This is no minor difference, if it, indeed, exists. But does it really exist?

What is it that we feel in empathy? Is it OUR emotions/sensations merely provoked by an external trigger (classic intersubjectivity) or is it a TRANSFER of the object's feelings/sensations to us?

Such a transfer being physically impossible (as far as we know) - we are forced to adopt the former model. Empathy is the set of reactions - emotional and cognitive - to triggering by an external object (the other). It is the equivalent of resonance in the physical sciences. But we have NO WAY to ascertain the "wavelength" of such resonance is identical in both subjects. In other words, we have no way to verify that the feelings or sensation invoked in the two (or more) subjects are one and the same. What I call "sadness" may not be what you call "sadness". Colours have unique, uniform, independently measurable properties (like energy). Still, no one can prove that what I see as "red" is what another calls "red" (as is the case with Daltonists). If this is true where "objective", measurable, phenomena are concerned - it is infinitely true in the case of emotions or feelings.

We are, therefore, forced to refine our definition:

Empathy is a form of intersubjectivity which involves living things as "objects" to which the communicated intersubjective agreement relates. It is the intersubjective, concomitant experience of BEING. The empathor empathizes not only with the empathee's emotions but also with his physical state and other parameters of existence (pain, hunger, thirst, suffocation, sexual pleasure etc.).


The meaning attributed to the words used by the parties to the intersubjective agreement known as empathy is totally dependent upon each party. The same words are used, the same denotates - but it cannot be proven that the same connotates, the same experiences, emotions and sensations are being discussed or communicated.

Language (and, by extension, art and culture) serve to introduce us to other points of view ("what is it like to be someone else" to paraphrase Thomas Nagle). By providing a bridge between the subjective (inner experience) and the objective (words, images, sounds) -language facilitates social exchange and interaction. It is a dictionary which translates one's subjective private language to the coin of the public medium. Knowledge and language are, thus, the ultimate social glue, though both are based on approximations and guesses (see George Steiner's "After Babel").

But, whereas the intersubjective agreement regarding measurements and observations concerning external objects IS verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools (e.g., lab experiments) - the intersubjective agreement which concerns itself with the emotions, sensations and experiences of subjects as communicated by them IS NOT verifiable or falsifiable using INDEPENDENT tools. The interpretation of this second kind of agreement is dependent upon introspection and an assumption that identical words used by different subjects still possess identical meaning. This assumption is not falsifiable (or verifiable). It is neither true nor false. It is a probabilistic statement with no probabilities attached. It is, in short, a meaningless statement. As a result, empathy itself is meaningless.

In human-speak, if you say that you are said and I empathize with you it means that we have an agreement. I regard you as my object. You communicate to me a property of yours ("sadness"). This triggers in me a recollection of "what is sadness" or "what is to be sad". I say that I know what you mean, I have been sad before, I know what it is like to be sad. I empathize with you. We agree about being sad. We have an intersubjective agreement.

(continued below)

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube


Alas, such an agreement is meaningless. We cannot (yet) measure sadness, quantify it, crystallize it, access it in any way from the outside. We are totally and absolutely reliant on your introspection and my introspection. There is no way anyone can prove that my "sadness" is even remotely similar to your sadness. I may be feeling or experiencing something that you might find hilarious and not sad at all. Still, I call it "sadness" and I empathize with you.

This would not have been that grave if empathy hadn't been the cornerstone of morality.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1999 Edition:

"Empathy and other forms of social awareness are important in the development of a moral sense. Morality embraces a person's beliefs about the appropriateness or goodness of what he does, thinks, or feels... Childhood is ... the time at which moral standards begin to develop in a process that often extends well into adulthood. The American psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg hypothesized that people's development of moral standards passes through stages that can be grouped into three moral levels...

At the third level, that of postconventional moral reasoning, the adult bases his moral standards on principles that he himself has evaluated and that he accepts as inherently valid, regardless of society's opinion. He is aware of the arbitrary, subjective nature of social standards and rules, which he regards as relative rather than absolute in authority.

Thus the bases for justifying moral standards pass from avoidance of punishment to avoidance of adult disapproval and rejection to avoidance of internal guilt and self-recrimination. The person's moral reasoning also moves toward increasingly greater social scope (i.e., including more people and institutions) and greater abstraction (i.e., from reasoning about physical events such as pain or pleasure to reasoning about values, rights, and implicit contracts)."

But, if moral reasoning is based on introspection and empathy - it is, indeed, dangerously relative and not objective in any known sense of the word. Empathy is a unique agreement on the emotional and experiential content of two or more introspective processes in two or more subjective. Such an agreement can never have any meaning, even as far as the parties to it are concerned. They can never be sure that they are discussing the same emotions or experiences. There is no way to compare, measure, observe, falsify or verify (prove) that the "same" emotion is experienced identically by the parties to the empathy agreement. Empathy is meaningless and introspection involves a private language despite what Wittgenstein had to say. Morality is thus reduced to a set of meaningless private languages.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

"... Others have argued that because even rather young children are capable of showing empathy with the pain of others, the inhibition of aggressive behaviour arises from this moral affect rather than from the mere anticipation of punishment. Some scientists have found that children differ in their individual capacity for empathy, and, therefore, some children are more sensitive to moral prohibitions than others.

Young children's growing awareness of their own emotional states, characteristics, and abilities leads to empathy--i.e., the ability to appreciate the feelings and perspectives of others. Empathy and other forms of social awareness are in turn important in the development of a moral sense... Another important aspect of children's emotional development is the formation of their self-concept, or identity--i.e., their sense of who they are and what their relation to other people is.

According to Lipps's concept of empathy, a person appreciates another person's reaction by a projection of the self into the other. In his Ästhetik, 2 vol. (1903-06; 'Aesthetics'), he made all appreciation of art dependent upon a similar self-projection into the object."

This may well be the key. Empathy has little to do with the other person (the empathee). It is simply the result of conditioning and socialization. In other words, when we hurt someone - we don't experience his pain. We experience OUR pain. Hurting somebody - hurts US. The reaction of pain is provoked in US by OUR own actions. We have been taught a learned response of feeling pain when we inflict it upon another. But we have also been taught to feel responsible for our fellow beings (guilt). So, we experience pain whenever another person claims to experience it as well. We feel guilty.

In sum:

To use the example of pain, we experience it in tandem with another person because we feel guilty or somehow responsible for his condition. A learned reaction is activated and we experience (our kind of) pain as well. We communicate it to the other person and an agreement of empathy is struck between us.

We attribute feelings, sensations and experiences to the object of our actions. It is the psychological defence mechanism of projection. Unable to conceive of inflicting pain upon ourselves - we displace the source. It is the other's pain that we are feeling, we keep telling ourselves, not our own.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica:

"Perhaps the most important aspect of children's emotional development is a growing awareness of their own emotional states and the ability to discern and interpret the emotions of others. The last half of the second year is a time when children start becoming aware of their own emotional states, characteristics, abilities, and potential for action; this phenomenon is called self-awareness... (coupled with strong narcissistic behaviours and traits - SV)...

This growing awareness of and ability to recall one's own emotional states leads to empathy, or the ability to appreciate the feelings and perceptions of others. Young children's dawning awareness of their own potential for action inspires them to try to direct (or otherwise affect) the behaviour of others...

...With age, children acquire the ability to understand the perspective, or point of view, of other people, a development that is closely linked with the empathic sharing of others' emotions...

One major factor underlying these changes is the child's increasing cognitive sophistication. For example, in order to feel the emotion of guilt, a child must appreciate the fact that he could have inhibited a particular action of his that violated a moral standard. The awareness that one can impose a restraint on one's own behaviour requires a certain level of cognitive maturation, and, therefore, the emotion of guilt cannot appear until that competence is attained."

That empathy is a REACTION to external stimuli that is fully contained within the empathor and then projected onto the empathee - is clearly demonstrated by "inborn empathy". It is the ability to exhibit empathy and altruistic behaviour in response to facial expressions. Newborns react this way to their mother's facial expression of sadness or distress.

This serves to prove that empathy has very little to do with the feelings, experiences or sensations of the other (the empathee). Surely, the infant has no idea what it is like to feel sad and definitely not what it is like for his mother to feel sad. In this case, it is a complex reflexive reaction. Later on, empathy is still rather reflexive, the result of conditioning.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica quotes fascinating research which dramatically proves the object-independent nature of empathy. Empathy is an internal reaction, an internal process, triggered by external cue provided by animate objects. It is communicated to the empathee-other by the empathor but the communication and the resulting agreement ("I know how you feel therefore we agree on how you feel") is rendered meaningless by the absence of a monovalent, unambiguous dictionary.

"An extensive series of studies indicated that positive emotion feelings enhance empathy and altruism. It was shown by the American psychologist Alice M. Isen that relatively small favours or bits of good luck (like finding money in a coin telephone or getting an unexpected gift) induced positive emotion in people and that such emotion regularly increased the subjects' inclination to sympathize or provide help.

Several studies have demonstrated that positive emotion facilitates creative problem solving. One of these studies showed that positive emotion enabled subjects to name more uses for common objects. Another showed that positive emotion enhanced creative problem solving by enabling subjects to see relations among objects (and other people - SV) that would otherwise go unnoticed. A number of studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of positive emotion on thinking, memory, and action in pre-school and older children."

If empathy increases with positive emotion (a result of good luck, for instance) - then it has little to do with its objects and a lot to do with the person in whom it is provoked.

Here is an Interview granted to the National Post, Toronto, Canada, July 2003:

Q. How important is empathy to proper psychological functioning?

A. Empathy is more important socially than it is psychologically. The absence of empathy - for instance in the Narcissistic and Antisocial personality disorders - predisposes people to exploit and abuse others. Empathy is the bedrock of our sense of morality. Arguably, aggressive behavior is as inhibited by empathy at least as much as it is by anticipated punishment.

But the existence of empathy in a person is also a sign of self-awareness, a healthy identity, a well-regulated sense of self-worth, and self-love (in the positive sense). Its absence denotes emotional and cognitive immaturity, an inability to love, to truly relate to others, to respect their boundaries and accept their needs, feelings, hopes, fears, choices, and preferences as autonomous entities.

Q. How is empathy developed?

A. It may be innate. Even toddlers seem to empathize with the pain - or happiness - of others (such as their caregivers). Empathy increases as the child forms a self-concept (identity). The more aware the infant is of his or her emotional states, the more he explores his limitations and capabilities - the more prone he is to projecting this new found knowledge unto others. By attributing to people around him his new gained insights about himself, the child develop a moral sense and inhibits his anti-social impulses. The development of empathy is, therefore, a part of the process of socialization.

But, as the American psychologist Carl Rogers taught us, empathy is also learned and inculcated. We are coached to feel guilt and pain when we inflict suffering on another person. Empathy is an attempt to avoid our own self-imposed agony by projecting it onto another.

Q. Is there an increasing dearth of empathy in society today? Why do you think so?

A. The social institutions that reified, propagated and administered empathy have imploded. The nuclear family, the closely-knit extended clan, the village, the neighborhood, the Church- have all unraveled. Society is atomized and anomic. The resulting alienation fostered a wave of antisocial behavior, both criminal and "legitimate". The survival value of empathy is on the decline. It is far wiser to be cunning, to cut corners, to deceive, and to abuse - than to be empathic. Empathy has largely dropped from the contemporary curriculum of socialization.

In a desperate attempt to cope with these inexorable processes, behaviors predicated on a lack of empathy have been pathologized and "medicalized". The sad truth is that narcissistic or antisocial conduct is both normative and rational. No amount of "diagnosis", "treatment", and medication can hide or reverse this fact. Ours is a cultural malaise which permeates every single cell and strand of the social fabric.

Q. Is there any empirical evidence we can point to of a decline in empathy?

Empathy cannot be measured directly - but only through proxies such as criminality, terrorism, charity, violence, antisocial behavior, related mental health disorders, or abuse.


Moreover, it is extremely difficult to separate the effects of deterrence from the effects of empathy.


If I don't batter my wife, torture animals, or steal - is it because I am empathetic or because I don't want to go to jail?


Rising litigiousness, zero tolerance, and skyrocketing rates of incarceration - as well as the ageing of the population - have sliced intimate partner violence and other forms of crime across the United States in the last decade. But this benevolent decline had nothing to do with increasing empathy.

The statistics are open to interpretation but it would be safe to say that the last century has been the most violent and least empathetic in human history. Wars and terrorism are on the rise, charity giving on the wane (measured as percentage of national wealth), welfare policies are being abolished, Darwininan models of capitalism are spreading. In the last two decades, mental health disorders were added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association whose hallmark is the lack of empathy. The violence is reflected in our popular culture: movies, video games, and the media.

Empathy - supposedly a spontaneous reaction to the plight of our fellow humans - is now channeled through self-interested and bloated non-government organizations or multilateral outfits. The vibrant world of private empathy has been replaced by faceless state largesse. Pity, mercy, the elation of giving are tax-deductible. It is a sorry sight.

But lacking empathy is only one of the reasons that narcissists are amoral (and consequently, immoral). The other important reason is that narcissists are fake. They suppress their true selves and their emotions to the point that they are rendered inaccessible to them. And there can be no moral sense without active, self-aware emotions!

The distinction often made between emotions and judgements gives rise to a host of conflicting accounts of morality. Yet, in the same way that the distinction "observer-observed" is false, so is the distinction between emotions and judgements. Emotions contain judgements and judgements are formed by both emotions and the ratio. Emotions are responses to sensa (see "The Manifold of Sense") and inevitably incorporate judgements (and beliefs) about those sensa. Some of these judgements are inherent (the outcome of biological evolution), others cultural, some unconscious, others conscious, and the result of personal experience. Judgements, on the other hand, are not compartmentalized. They vigorously interact with our emotions as they form.

The source of this artificial distinction is the confusion between moral and natural laws.

We differentiate among four kinds of "right" and "good".

The Natural Good

There is "right" in the mathematical, physical, or pragmatic sense. It is "right" to do something in a certain way. In other words, it is viable, practical, functional, it coheres with the world. Similarly, we say that it is "good" to do the "right" thing and that we "ought to" do it. It is the kind of "right" and "good" that compel us to act because we "ought to". If we adopt a different course, if we neglect, omit, or refuse to act in the "right" and "good" way, as we "ought to" - we are punished. Nature herself penalizes such violations. The immutable laws of nature are the source of the "rightness" and "goodness" of these courses of action. We are compelled to adopt them - because we have no other CHOICE. If we construct a bridge in the "right" and "good" way, as we "ought to" - it will survive. Otherwise, the laws of nature will make it collapse and, thus, punish us. We have no choice in the matter. The laws of nature constrain our moral principles as well.

The Moral Good

This lack of choice stands in stark contrast to the "good" and "right" of morality. The laws of morality cannot be compared to the laws of nature - nor are they variants or derivatives thereof. The laws of nature leave us no choice. The laws of morality rely on our choice.

Yet, the identical vocabulary and syntax we successfully employ in both cases (the pragmatic and the moral) - "right action", "good", and "ought to" - surely signify a deep and hidden connection between our dictated reactions to the laws of nature and our chosen reactions to the laws of morality (i.e., our reactions to the laws of Man or God)? Perhaps the principles and rules of morality ARE laws of nature - but with choice added? Modern physics incorporates deterministic theories (Newton's, Einstein's) - and theories involving probability and choice (Quantum Mechanics and its interpretations, especially the Copenhagen interpretation). Why can't we conceive of moral laws as private cases (involving choice, judgements, beliefs, and emotions) of natural laws?

(continued below)

This article appears in my book, "Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited"

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Amazon (click HERE to buy a copy dedicated by the author)

Click HERE to buy the print edition from Barnes and Noble

Click HERE to buy the print edition from the publisher and receive a BONUS PACK

Click HERE to buy electronic books (e-books) and video lectures (DVDs) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships

Click HERE to buy the ENTIRE SERIES of sixteen electronic books (e-books) about narcissists, psychopaths, and abuse in relationships




Follow me on Twitter, Facebook (my personal page or the book’s), YouTube


The Hedonistic Good

If so, how can we account for the third, hedonistic, variant of "good", "right", and "ought to"? To live the "good" life may mean to maximize one's utility (i.e., happiness, or pleasure) - but not necessarily to maximize overall utility. In other words, living the good life is not always a moral pursuit (if we apply to it Utilitarian or Consequentialist yardsticks).  Yet, here, too, we use the same syntax and vocabulary. We say that we want to live the "good" life and to do so, there is a "right action", which we "ought to" pursue. Is hedonism a private case of the Laws of Nature as well? This would be going too far. Is it a private case of the rules or principles of Morality? It could be - but need not be. Still, the principle of utility has place in every cogent description of morality.

The Aesthetic Good

A fourth kind of "good" is of the aesthetic brand. The language of aesthetic judgement is identical to the languages of physics, morality, and hedonism. Aesthetic values sound strikingly like moral ones and both resemble, structurally, the laws of nature. We say that beauty is "right" (symmetric, etc.), that we "ought to" maximize beauty - and this leads to the right action. Replace "beauty" with "good" in any aesthetic statement - and one gets a moral statement. Moral, natural, aesthetic, and hedonistic statements are all mutually convertible. Moreover, an aesthetic experience often leads to moral action.

An Interactive Framework

It is safe to say that, when we wish to discuss the nature of "good" and "right", the Laws of Nature serve as the privileged frame of reference. They delimit and constrain the set of possible states - pragmatic and moral. No moral, aesthetic, or hedonistic principle or rule can defy, negate, suspend, or ignore the Laws of Nature. They are the source of everything that is "good" and "right". Thus, the language we use to describe all instances of "good" and "right" is "natural". Human choice, of course, does not exist as far as the Laws of Nature go.

Nature is beautiful - symmetric, elegant, and parsimonious. Aesthetic values and aesthetic judgements of "good" (i.e., beautiful) and "right" rely heavily on the attributes of Nature. Inevitably, they employ the same vocabulary and syntax. Aesthetics is the bridge between the functional or correct "good" and "right" - and the hedonistic "good" and "right". Aesthetics is the first order of the interaction between the WORLD and the MIND. Here, choice is very limited. It is not possible to "choose" something to be beautiful. It is either beautiful or it is not (regardless of the objective or subjective source of the aesthetic judgement).

The hedonist is primarily concerned with the maximization of his happiness and pleasure. But such outcomes can be secured only by adhering to aesthetic values, by rendering aesthetic judgements, and by maintaining aesthetic standards. The hedonist craves beauty, pursues perfection, avoids the ugly - in short, the hedonist is an aesthete. Hedonism is the application of aesthetic rules, principles, values, and judgements in a social and cultural setting. Hedonism is aesthetics in context - the context of being human in a society of humans. The hedonist has a limited, binary, choice - between being a hedonist and not being one.

From here it is one step to morality. The principle of individual utility which underlies hedonism can be easily generalized to encompass Humanity as a whole. The social and cultural context is indispensable - there cannot be meaningful morality outside society. A Robinson Crusoe - at least until he spotted Friday - is an a-moral creature. Thus, morality is generalized hedonism with the added (and crucial) feature of free will and (for all practical purposes) unrestricted choice. It is what makes us really human.

There was one man who dedicated his life, both figuratively and literally, to the study of narcissism as the moral future of mankind. His name was Friedrich Nietzsche.

Allow me some extensive quotes from "Thus Spake Zarathustra" and "Ecce Homo" (translated by Walter Kaufmann):

"I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?

All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment...

Behold, I teach you the overman. The overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the overman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go.

Once the sin against God was the greatest sin; but God died, and these sinners died with him. To sin against the earth is now the most dreadful thing, and to esteem the entrails of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth...

What is the greatest experience you can have? It is the hour of the great contempt. The hour when your happiness, too, arouses your disgust, and even your reason and your virtue.

The hour when you say, 'What matters my happiness? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment. But my happiness ought to justify existence itself.'

The hour when you say, 'What matters my reason? Does it crave knowledge as the lion his food? It is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.'

The hour when you say, 'What matters my virtue? As yet it has not made me rage. How weary I am of my good and my evil! All that is poverty and filth and wretched contentment.'

Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman - a rope over an abyss...

What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture and a going under...

I say unto you: one must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star. I say unto you: you still have chaos in yourselves.

Alas, the time is coming when man will no longer give birth to a star. Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming, he that is no longer able to despise himself. Behold, I show you the last man.

'What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?' thus asks the last man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the last man, who makes everything small. His race is as ineradicable as the flea; the last man lives longest.

'We have invented happiness, 'say the last men, and they blink. They have left the regions where it was hard to live, for one needs warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him, for one needs warmth...

One still works, for work is a form of entertainment. But one is careful lest the entertainment be too harrowing. One no longer becomes poor or rich: both require too much exertion. Who still wants to rule? Who obey? Both require too much exertion.

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.

'Formerly, all the world was mad,' say the most refined, and they blink...

One has one's little pleasure for the day and one's little pleasure for the night: but one has a regard for health.

'We have invented happiness', say the last men, and they blink."

On the Three Metamorphoses of the Spirit

Of the three metamorphoses of the spirit I tell you: how the spirit becomes a camel; and the camel, a lion; and the lion, finally, a child.

There is much that is difficult for the spirit, the strong, reverent spirit that would bear much: but the difficult and the most difficult are what its strength demands.

What is difficult? asks the spirit that would bear much, and kneels down like a camel wanting to be well loaded. What is most difficult, O heroes, asks the spirit that would bear much, that I may take it upon myself and exult in my strength? Is it not humbling oneself to wound one's haughtiness? Letting one's folly shine to mock one's wisdom?...

Or is it this: stepping into filthy waters when they are the waters of truth, and not repulsing cold frogs and hot toads?

Or is it this: loving those that despise us and offering a hand to the ghost that would frighten us?

All these most difficult things the spirit that would bear much takes upon itself: like the camel that, burdened, speeds into the desert, thus the spirit speeds into its desert.

In the loneliest desert, however, the second metamorphosis occurs: here the spirit becomes a lion who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert. Here he seeks out his last master: he wants to fight him and his last god; for ultimate victory he wants to fight with the great dragon.

Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? "Thou shalt" is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, "I will." "Thou shalt" lies in his way, sparkling like gold, an animal covered with scales; and on every scale shines a golden "thou shalt."

Values, thousands of years old, shine on these scales; and thus speaks the mightiest of all dragons: "All value has long been created, and I am all created value. Verily, there shall be no more 'I will.'" Thus speaks the dragon.

My brothers, why is there a need in the spirit for the lion? Why is not the beast of burden, which renounces and is reverent, enough?

To create new values - that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred "No" even to duty - for that, my brothers, the lion is needed. To assume the right to new values - that is the most terrifying assumption for a reverent spirit that would bear much. Verily, to him it is preying, and a matter for a beast of prey. He once loved "thou shalt" as most sacred: now he must find illusion and caprice even in the most sacred, that freedom from his love may become his prey: the lion is needed for such prey.

But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred "Yes." For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred "Yes" is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers the world."

Nietzsche's Overman is a challenge to society as a whole and to its values and value systems in particular. The latter are considered by Nietzsche to be obstacles to growth, abstract fantasies which contribute nothing positive to humanity's struggle to survive. Nietzsche is not against values and value systems as such - but against SPECIFIC values, the Judaeo-Christian ones. It relies on a transcendental, immutable, objective source of supreme, omniscient, long term benevolent source (God). Because God (an irrelevant human construct) is a-human (humans are not omniscience and omnipotent) his values are inhuman and irrelevant to our existence. They hamper the fulfilment of our potential as humans. Enter the Overman. He is a human being who generates values in accordance with data that he collects from his environment. He employs his intuition (regarding good and evil) to form values and then tests them empirically and without prejudice. Needless to say that this future human does not resort to contraptions such as the after-life or to a denial of his drives and needs in the gratification of which he takes great pleasure. In other words, the Overman is not ascetic and does not deny his self in order to alleviate his suffering by re-interpreting it ("suffering in this world is rewarded in the afterlife" as institutionalized religions are wont to say). The Overman dispenses with guilt and shame as anti-nihilistic devices. Feeling negative about oneself the pre-Overman Man is unable to joyously and uninhibitedly materialize the full range of his potentials. The ensuing frustration and repressed aggression weaken Man both physically and psychologically.

So, the Overman or Superman is NOT a post-human being. It IS a human being just like you and I but with different values. It is really an interpretative principle, an exegesis of reality, a unified theory of the meaning and fullness of being human. He has no authority outside himself, no values "out there" and fully trusts himself to tell good from evil. Simply: that which works, promotes his welfare and happiness and helps him realize his full range of potentials - is good. And everything - including values and the Overman himself - everything - is transitory, contingent, replaceable, changeable and subject to the continuous scrutiny of Darwinian natural selection. The fact that the Superman does NOT take himself and his place in the universe as granted is precisely what "overcoming" means. The Overman co-exists with the weaker and the more ignorant specimen of Mankind. Actually, the Overmen are destined to LEAD the rest of humanity and to guide it. They guide it in light of their values: self-realization, survival in strength, continual re-invention, etc. Overcoming is not only a process or a mechanism - it is also the meaning of life itself. It constitutes the reason to live.

Paradoxically, the Superman is a very social creature. He regards humanity as a bridge between the current Man or Overman and the future one. Since there is no way of predicting at birth who will end up being the next Man - life is sacred and overcoming becomes a collective effort and a social enterprise. Creation (the "will's joy") - the Superman's main and constant activity - is meaningless in the absence of a context.

Even if we ignore for a minute the strong RELIGIOUS overtones and undertones of Nietzsche's Overman belief-system - it is clear that Nietzsche provides us with no prediction regarding the future of Mankind. He simply analyses the psychological makeup of leaders and contrasts it with the superstitious, herd-like, self-defeating values of the masses. Nietzsche was vindicated by the hedonism and individualism of the 20th century. Nazi Germany was the grossly malignant and narcissistic form of "Nietzscheanism".

Thank you, Stephen, for this particular dialog.

Continue to letter XI