Kohlberg, psychopaths, and the pointless tragedy of Socrates


The problem with most of our modern social models is they assume that humanity is exactly one global set of behavioural variations.  This makes sense as actionable study of psychopaths has really started in the early 70s.  Without a concerted effort until the 1990s.  Psychopathy as completely different set of social behaviour is only 40 years old, and it’s most definitive test, the MRI word list, only 30.

Lawrence Kohlberg developed a theory of moral development.  Of course his development model assumes all humans could display all behaviours but this is not true.


It turns out only the first four stages of moral development are available to psychopaths.  The highest a human with only a master/slave model of interaction is a level four (of six) or the law and order model of society.  Level 5 is almost a literal definition of applied empathy, and level six is expanding empathy beyond the current physical and temporal constraints into a system of higher principals.  No empathy IS the definition of a psychopath.

For simplicities sake, I’m working on the principal the proceeding stages are automatically available (they seem to be) when a higher stage is accomplished.  Theoretically psychopaths could accept that society is their master and they the slave, IF they accept that all the empaths working together are superior to their self in every way, AND that is unlikely to change.  Without screening it is impossible to guarantee a psychopath will never perceive a golden opportunity rapidly plunging them back into a two or a one (what’s in it for me.) on Kohlberg’s scale.  So for now it seems they are reduced to the highest possible consistent state of a three, assuming that they have accepted a ‘social norm’ that many people would take a golden opportunity.  Unfortunately this is true enough in a society where their imperceptibility is the norm.

I have long contended that no society could be peaceful unless their entire membership is at least a four or law and order oriented.  Then post conventional agents could adjust the laws as needed, and the society could adapt to their environment without conflict.

When Socrates was threatened with death he contented that law and order were the minimal requirements for a peaceful civilization.  Without the aid of Kohlberg’s stages I think he was describing a level four citizen as a societies minimal requirement for progress and peace.  What Socrates didn’t know is that (absent genetic screening) that a percentage of indistinguishable humans could never become a stage four in moral development.  So long as some high functioning humans can’t get past a three, there can never really be peace.

I understand Socrates decision at both a gut and an intellectual level, but he didn’t have all the information.  He didn’t know that some people could never ever be reliable fours, and could never truly revere law and order, no matter how intelligent or logical they became.  That they just didn’t have a conscience, and we just couldn’t spot them every time.  If he did he would have realized that the social contract had always been invalid, because some of it’s signers traded a property they could not have ever owned.  The capacity for complete reliability.  He would have ran.  He would have raised and army, and he would have crushed the disintegrating country that condemned him.

What a tragic waste.

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