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What do you call a soulless person?

What makes someone “soulless”? This is a complex question with no simple answer, but generally a soulless person can be defined as someone who lacks empathy, compassion, and a conscience. A soulless person may be selfish, manipulative, and apathetic to the suffering of others. They are often called psychopaths or sociopaths in pop psychology. However, true psychopathy and sociopathy are complex psychological disorders that should only be diagnosed by mental health professionals. In this article, we will explore what it means to be soulless from various perspectives.

The Religious Perspective

In many religions and spiritual traditions, the soul is considered the eternal, immortal part of a person. It is the source of morality, emotions, empathy, and our deeper human nature. Without a soul, a person would essentially be an empty shell guided only by base desires and instincts. Some associate the soul with conscience – the inner sense of right and wrong. A soulless person in a religious context would lack a moral compass and may commit evil without remorse.

Some religions posit the existence of demons – malicious spirit entities that can take control of a human body. The person possessed by a demon in this sense would behave without a soul. Their actions would be driven entirely by the demon’s evil intent rather than the person’s humanity. Exorcisms are religious rituals intended to drive out possessing demons and restore the person’s soul.

Of course, in our modern scientific understanding, demonic possession does not literally happen. However, the metaphor can represent people who seem to entirely lack empathy or conscience. Many faith traditions argue that even the most wicked people still have some spark of divinity within them that can be redeemed. A soulless person may be seen as someone who has completely lost touch with their spiritual nature.

The Psychological Perspective

Psychology studies the mind and behavior scientifically. While the existence of an immortal soul is unprovable, psychologists do recognize that some people seem to lack fundamental human qualities. Mental health disorders like psychopathy, sociopathy, and narcissistic personality disorder can make people dangerous and cruel. Feelings like empathy, love, and compassion are muted or nonexistent in these disorders.

Psychopaths are defined by their persistent antisocial behavior and lack of remorse. They violate social norms and harm others without guilt. Psychologist Robert Hare developed a checklist of traits that are used to diagnose psychopathy. These include:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Pathological lying and manipulativeness
  • Shallow emotions
  • Irresponsibility and impulsivity
  • Poor behavioral controls
  • Criminal versatility

Sociopaths are similar to psychopaths but may be slightly more influenced by social norms. Psychopaths are callous, calculating social predators while sociopaths may have intense emotional outbursts. Both lack empathy but sociopaths may bond with a small group of individuals, while psychopaths bond with no one. About 1% of the overall population are estimated to be psychopaths, with a higher incidence among criminals. Sociopathy is more common, affecting 3% to 5% of people.

Narcissistic personality disorder also makes people act in cruel, selfish ways. They lack empathy and exploit others in their pursuit of status or power. About 6% of the U.S. population suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. While their behaviors overlap, narcissists are fundamentally insecure while psychopaths have an inflated sense of self.

In each of these disorders, the person’s fundamental humanity seems missing. They harm others without remorse and only care about themselves. However, research shows that psychopaths and sociopaths do experience emotions, just in very shallow ways. They also make complex moral judgments similar to others, even if they then make immoral choices. So psychology indicates these disorders do not make people soulless in a literal sense – just extremely dangerous and destructive to society.

Table: Differences between Psychopaths, Sociopaths, and Narcissists

Disorder Key Traits Estimated Prevalence
Psychopathy Lack of empathy, guilt and remorse; manipulative; egocentric; impulsive 1%
Sociopathy Lack of empathy; prone to emotional outbursts; may follow social norms when it benefits them 3-5%
Narcissistic Personality Disorder Exaggerated sense of self-importance; lack of empathy; sense of entitlement; exploit others; insecure 6%

The Philosophical Perspective

Philosophers have long pondered what essential human nature makes us moral beings. Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle discussed the concept of a psyche – the innate human capacity for things like thought, emotion, and reason. The psyche is sometimes translated as soul but lacks the religious connotations of an eternal spirit.

The idea that all humans share fundamental characteristics is embodied in the philosophical tradition of humanism. Humanism posits that we can develop objective moral values through reason and our natural desire for goodness. A soulless person from a humanist view may be someone who lacks the qualities of wisdom, empathy, and self-restraint that make us ethical beings.

Modern philosophers like Martin Heidegger argued that our technology-driven world disregards humanity’s spiritual side. Applying Heidegger’s framework, a soulless person could represent the reduction of human existence to biology and machines. We lose our soul when we treat people as resources and objects without intrinsic meaning. However, other existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre believe that our essence is defined by our actions, not a soul. Sartre would argue that being soulless simply means choosing immoral and unjust deeds – not literally lacking a spiritual force.

Soulless or Damaged?

While religion, psychology and philosophy offer different perspectives, they all see a soulless person as someone who lacks empathy and disregards others’ welfare. Modern therapeutic approaches would argue that even people with psychopathic traits have the potential for redemption. The brain can be rewired through compassion training to stimulate empathy. So soullessness may sometimes be more of a disorder than a permanent state.

Others counter that true psychopathy is innate and can’t be cured. Psychopaths’ brains are structurally and functionally different. One theory suggests that psychopathy is an evolutionary adaptation for seeking power, status, and reproduction. Attempts to instill empathy fail because their brains lack the wiring for complex emotions. If psychopathy is physically hard-wired in the brain, this supports the view of psychopaths as essentially soulless.

Ultimately, the metaphor of a soulless person reflects our struggle to understand minds unlike our own. It captures the disturbing enigma of people who harm without remorse. While we can never know another’s inner experience, the “soulless” designation can lead us to dehumanize others. Exploring the human capacity for both good and evil reveals that we all share core dimensions of the mind. Perhaps no person is truly soulless, but some conditions warp the soul’s expression.


The idea of a soulless person haunts religions and philosophies across cultures. While the precise definitions differ, a soulless individual essentially lacks the qualities that make us moral – empathy, ethics, and concern for others. Psychopathy and related disorders produce patterns of behavior that appear soulless from the outside – but inside may still carry glimmers of humanity. Before branding someone soulless, we should consider their suffering and potential. With an open heart, even the soulless may reawaken to their dormant conscience.