Book Review: The Science of Evil / Zero Degrees of Empathy (Simon Baron-Cohen)

I have just finished reading this fantastic book and already know that I will be consulting it again and again in the future. Baron-Cohen very tactfully explores morality on the personal level and from historical examples of heinous acts, such as the Holocaust. His expertise with those who characteristically have no/little empathy, such as psychopaths, those suffering from borderline personality disorder, narcissists, and those suffering from varying degrees of autism is used to construct two views, zero-negative and zero-positive. Zero-negative represents those with no empathy and their actions can only be detrimental to themselves or/and others, whereas zero-positive represents those with autism, who have a remarkable propensity for memorization and logic.

His ideas about empathy are grounded heavily in the brain, where he discusses the brain regions involved, and how nature and nurture clearly help to shape the brain’s moral capacity. Baron-Cohen challenges his readers to think about “evil” in light of neurological scholarship in the field of empathy, helping us to see empathic actions as part of a bell curve, rather than polarizing actions into good and evil.

Highly recommended.

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