What Is Evil?

Forensic Psychiatry

Michael Stone is professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. From 2006 to 2008, Stone hosted the series Most Evil on the Discovery Channel, for which he developed a "Gradations of Evil Scale" to rank homicides from 1 to 22 based on their level of evil.  He has written 10 books, including The Anatomy of Evil.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: What is evil?

Michael Stone: Well, evil is a very fascinating topic. Are we really permitted as a legitimate for ordinary folks to use that word “evil,” because it tended for thousands of years to belong to the sphere of religion and philosophy, but I noticed, as we all do, people used the word evil all the time, people in ordinary life, journalists, prosecutors, judges, etc. 

So, I began to create a scale of evil. I ended up at first with just a few numbers on my scale, but I then got it up to 22 of which the first one was "not evil," just justified homicide.  Number two was crimes of passion, all the way up to 22 where there was usually a serial killer subjecting victims to prolonged torture. So, that's about as bad as it gets.

The scale at first, it was just a very rudimentary one, but as I read more and more of these True Crime books and also went around the country interviewing serial killers and other very famous murderers a couple of years ago, I expanded the scale to 22 levels.  Twenty-one of which being evil and one being justified homicide.  And you can divide that into three main segments.  One of which was for impulsive murders by people who really were not psychopaths, they were not the kind of persons who do unspeakable things all the time routinely and have absolutely no remorse and they’re totally hard-hearted and callous.  Ordinary people that get caught in some terrible situation, for example.  

And then the next bunch of numbers from let’s say about nine to 16 are for people that show a fair number of psychopathic traits, those being grandiosity and superficial charm and glibness and manipulativeness and lying and lack of remorse and callousness and so on.  And then finally you get to people who are clearly psychopathic by all the modern definitions.  Especially the serial killers and the ones who go in for prolonged torture.

Recorded on July 27, 2010

Interviewed by Max Miller


×