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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: December 2014

10 - The prevailing wisdom


Virtuous violence theory posits that most violence is morally motivated, but that claim does not imply that people have no other motives pushing toward or against violence. People typically have many simultaneous motives pushing and pulling in divergent directions. In some cultures and some contexts where violence is highly restricted and rarely occurs, to perform a morally required killing may require the strengthening of moral and non-moral violence motives and the weakening of moral and non-moral peace motives. In this chapter, we will take a closer look at sadistic, rationalist, impulsive or self-regulatory, dehumanization, and moral-disengagement accounts of violence and how they complement virtuous violence theory, if at all.

Are most killers sadists and psychopaths?

In his book, Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty, Roy Baumeister (1997) examines newspapers, myths, stories, movies, and the accounts of perpetrators and victims to detail what he refers to as “the myth of pure evil.” According to Baumeister, most people have a folk theory of evil in which perpetrators are sadists who commit violence because they are biologically or dispositionally inclined to gain intrinsic pleasure from causing suffering through intentional harm to purely innocent victims, or, at the very least, they are psychopaths who have no sense of empathy toward those who suffer and feel no remorse for their actions as a result. Psychopathy is not the same as sadism, but it is the most relevant psychological disorder in regard to the belief that violence is perpetrated by “crazy” people. Psychopathy is defined largely in terms of the lack of social motives and moral emotions (Millon et al., 1998; Patrick, 2005), so presumably the violence that psychopaths commit is not often morally motivated, and is truly immoral. So if most acts of violence are perpetrated by psychopaths, it would disprove our thesis that most violence is morally motivated.

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