Origins of Empathy
When conducting any kind of research its always important to have an open mind and a solid definition and understanding of what you're trying to find. The issue when trying to explain the origins of morality and its sole definition occurs when there are just too many to list. Morals are different for everyone. Our age, cultural and socioeconomic background, gender, as well as unique experiences are all determining factors that shape our morals. Morality had been defined in the dictionary as "Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior", the problem is, everyone has differeing opinions of good and bad. Theologist and philosophers have tried to deconstruction for years but to no avail. Some theorys include it being an evolutionary trait picked up for survival, or that morals are only two things, fairness and sympathy, one theory even suggest that no one actually has morality at all and that it's only followed because we don't want to be judged by others due to social norms. One thing that is almost always mentioned within the theories however, is the principle of empathy. Guilt, joy, love, these are all moral feelings that stem from empathy. It begs the question, what happens to morality when empathy is removed?
In order to create an environment where empathy is not a factor for one's morality it needs to be an inconceivable emotion. This is why sociopath's have been deemed "A philosopher's playground", according to countless doctors and researchers, sociopaths can't feel empathy and are often decribed as lacking the ablility to feel remorse, regret and guilt. The medical term for sociopaths has changed into "Antisocial personality disorder" or "ASPD". I decided that in order to understand the implications lack of empathy would have on ones morals I needed to talk to someone that hasn't experienced it.
Living with ASPD: An interview with Jamari Adams
I met Adams on the r/Sociopaths forum on the social media platform Reddit after he began a chat with me responding to my post about wanting to interview a diagnosed sociopath to research morality within this disorder. He's 24 year olds, born and raised in Massachusetts where he currently works at his brother-in-laws painting company Ramirez Custom Painting. Adams was diagnosed with ASPD in 2018 when he was 19 years old. Respectively he said I could use his name and any information disclosed within our interview but to please refrain from using his photo and Reddit handle. On October 28th we organized a Zoom meeting to discuss his thoughts on empathy, love, and morality.
Do you really not feel empathy?
I wanted to know if it was just a misconception, that maybe we had it wrong and they just feel it in a different way than they do. He explained that he has an understanding of what empathy is but not a physical feeling or mental persuation that could allow for a "normie" interpretation of it. "I don't know nothing just makes me feel bad I guess," he stated.
Are there any emotions that you can feel? Do you like them?
Supposedly sociopaths don't feel remorse or guilt, but can they feel joy, love even? He expressed that most of the time he just feels indifference, he can feel things like embarassment, anger, awkwardness and things like enjoyment and pleasure. "joy sounds better than happiness mostly I just don't care like I can't get sad if I don't care about, you know, being happy." I asked him if that meant the pursit of happiness doesn't apply to him, he elaborated expressing that he likes being happy but doesn't feel a need to chase it.
Do you consider yourself selfish or self-interested, Do others' feeling matter to you?
A normal person acts within their own self-interest when it comes to morals, not wanting to feel guilt and letting that influence your behavior is acting with self interest. Adams mentions that he doesn't think it's either for him because he doesn't care about being selfish, it makes sense because the only reason why anything is really considered "selfish" is because of the associated guilt. "I don't try to make other people feel bad, usually I'll be confused when someone get offended but I don't really want people to think I'm mean it makes me feel embarrassed, sometimes it's just annoying."
Did you feel like you were different from other kids when you were younger
I wanted to know if he had a sense of self awareness when it came to others within his community. Was it obvious to others? Can it be hidden? He told me a story about how when he was really young on Veteran's day his family was having a cookout and he "stole" the box of sparklers and lit them all at once, his father yelled at him because they were meant for his sister as well as his cousins and him, to play with together, Adams says he responded to his parents guilt trip by saying "I don't care I wanted to play now" and that made his parents think things were wrong with him, in a way they started resenting him he feels "I think they just thought I was a natural born d*ck."
Do you wish you were different? Would you like to know what it feels like to be "normal"
I wish I could sympathize with him and understand what it's like, but does that go both ways? Maybe the reason why I want to know is because I actually do have empathy. He explained that he wouldn't really want to know because he wouldn't really be him anymore, it would be like a different version of him but he would cease to exist if he was normal, that you can't have both because thats what makes a sociopath. He describes that knowing what empathy feels like isn't really a priority to him.
Is there a choice?
During this research I came across Tiktok user @notkanikabatra , another diagnosed sociopath, that recently went viral on the platform I shared this Tiktok with Adams and asked him if he feels like he can choose to have compassion and kindness as a sociopath. "Yeah I really think most of us do we have an understanding of whats good and whats bad we just can't feel it. I think it's something that can be learned, probably."
Anderson, Peter. "Dear Theophilus: Where does Morality Come from?", 2021, https://www.gcu.edu/blog/theology-ministry/dear-theophilus-where-does-morality-come.
Ellemers, N., et al. "The Psychology of Morality: A Review and Analysis of Empirical Studies Published from 1940 through 2017." Personality and Social Psychology Review, vol. 23, no. 4, 2019, pp. 332-366. MEDLINE, https://www.narcis.nl/publication/RecordID/oai:dspace.library.uu.nl:1874%2F407562,doi:10.1177/1088868318811759.
Fagan, Chelsea. "Why Rich People Become A**holes.", May 31, 2022, https://youtu.be/1EHhFwGeQLc.
. fox-McLeodSociopaths are More Capable of Morality than Non-Sociopaths, 2017.
Sears. "5 Stages of Moral Growth of Children.", 2020, https://www.askdrsears.com/topics/parenting/discipline-behavior/morals-manners/5-stages-moral-growth-children/.
Skitka, Linda J. "The Psychology of Moral Conviction." Social and Personality Psychology Compass, vol. 4, no. 4, 2010, pp. 267-281. CrossRef, https://api.istex.fr/ark:/67375/WNG-NVZ4865J-Q/fulltext.pdf,doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00254.x.
. Smith, EmilyIs Human Morality a Product of Evolution?, 2015.
Sterbenz, Christina. "These Charts show how the World Feels about 8 Moral Issues.", August 20, 2014, https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-how-the-world-feels-about-8-moral-questions-2014-8.