Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. By Simon Baron-Cohen. Allen Lane; 190 pages; £20.
WICKEDNESS has long been the preserve of religion. For an act to be evil, it must be significantly wrong, embarked upon with full knowledge of its wantonness and embraced wholeheartedly by the person doing the deed. In “Zero Degrees of Empathy” psychologist and psychiatrist Simon Baron-Cohen argues for a scientific explanation of why some people act in a way that appears to be evil. He thinks that they are sick and that they can be treated.
The past offers all sorts of unsavoury stories of behaviour brought into the realm of medicine with dire effects. Remember, for instance, the eugenic sterilisation of the feckless? Yet Mr Baron-Cohen’s agenda is liberal and his arguments at least merit inspection.