The clearest symptom by which one can recognize [the amoralist] is his total inability to judge himself, his actions, or his work by any sort of standard. The normal pattern of self-appraisal requires a reference to some abstract value or virtue — e.g., “I am good because I am rational,” “I am good because I am honest,” even the second-hander’s notion of “I am good because people like me.” Regardless of whether the value-standards involved are true or false, these examples imply the recognition of an essential moral principle: that one’s own value has to be earned.

The amoralist’s implicit pattern of self-appraisal (which he seldom identifies or admits) is: “I am good because it’s me.”

Beyond the age of about three to five (i.e., beyond the perceptual level of mental development), this is not an expression of pride or self-esteem, but of the opposite: of a vacuum — of a stagnant, arrested mentality confessing its impotence to achieve any personal value or virtue.

Do not confuse this pattern with psychological subjectivism. A psychological subjectivist is unable fully to identify his values or to prove their objective validity, but he may be profoundly consistent and loyal to them in practice (though with terrible psycho-epistemological difficulty). The amoralist does not hold subjective values; he does not hold any values. The implicit pattern of all his estimates is: “It’s good because I like it” — “It’s right because I did it” — “It’s true because I want it to be true.” What is the “I” in these statements? A physical hulk driven by chronic anxiety.

[The amoralist] will walk over piles of corpses — in order to assert himself? no — in order to hide (or fill) the nagging inner vacuum left by his aborted self.

The grim joke on mankind is the fact that he is held up as a symbol of selfishness.

All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.