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J Am Acad Psychiatry Law. 2008;36(1):105-16.

The recurrence of an illusion: the concept of "evil" in forensic psychiatry.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, SUNY Upstate Medical University, 750 East Adams Street, Syracuse, NY 13210, USA.


The author notes an increased interest in the concept of "evil" in the fields of psychiatry and psychology. In particular, there is some interest in defining and testifying about evil. It is argued that evil can never be scientifically defined because it is an illusory moral concept, it does not exist in nature, and its origins and connotations are inextricably linked to religion and mythology. Any attempt to study violent or deviant behavior under the rubric of this term will be fraught with bias and moralistic judgments. Embracing the term "evil" into the lexicon and practice of psychiatry will contribute to the stigmatization of mental illness, diminish the credibility of forensic psychiatry, and corrupt forensic treatment efforts.

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