The Seven Deadly Sins: Society and Evil

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Seven Modern Deadly Sins - The Good Men Project

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Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. More information about this seller Contact this seller 8. Martins Press Martins Press, Trade Paperback. More information about this seller Contact this seller 9. Lyman also discusses sloth,in the followingorder, in Chaucer, in Spenser, in the Kabbala though neitherthe term "sloth" nor related terms appear therein , sloth as melancholy and ennui in This content downloaded from It is an impressivelist,but its very range pointsto a fundmentalflaw. The problem is one of definition.

Let me try,as Lyman does not, to discuss and to interrelatebrieflyhis centralterms,"evil,""sin,""the seven deadly sins,"and, even more briefly,"society. Evil may be divided-oversimply, to be sure-into moral and natural.

The former depends on human volition; the latter is independentof it. Sin itselfis part of moral- and religious- evil. Sin, in thisdefinition,is voluntary;that is, it depends on the will. In the larger sense, sin may be divided into original and actual. While thefirstsin Adam and Eve's was a voluntaryact of disobedi- ence, our own conditionof "originalsin" is,accordingto theologians,involuntarysince we are born withit.

And iforiginalsin is inherentin the human condition,thenthe sociology of action Lyman's speciality would have no interestin it, unless, of course, sociologists would studythe originof the idea of originalsin. Thus it is actual sin thatis, a voluntary evil act, whether in thought,word or deed which would be of greatest interestto a sociologist of action. Actual sin may be subdivided into mortal deadly and venial forgivable. The seven deadly sins thusare the seven mortaland actual thatis,activeand voluntary sins. But the three termscannot be discussed as easily as all thissuggests.

While the deadly sins signifyspiritualdeath, in many lists,includingthose importantones of Aquinas and Dante on whom Lyman depends fora numberof examples,these seven sinsare called the "seven capital or cardinal sins. Gregoryhere, these seven sins-and the listis, forall practicalpurposes, the same as thatof the seven deadly sins-are not mortal but forgivable.

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They are "capital sins" in the words of Aquinas, capitaliavitia ,meaning thattheyare the head capitus of other sins,thattheygive rise to other sins. See SummaTheologiae,Ia-2ae. And thatgetshim intotrouble. For instance,all of Lyman's examples on Dante and "the seven deadly sins" are taken fromthe Inferno. That would seemto make sense, for the sinnersin the Inferno,being condemned to an eternityof suffering,certainlywould appear to be guiltyof one or more of the seven deadly sins.

However,Dante did notstructuretheInfernoaccordingto the unit-ideaof the seven deadly sins. He could not do so because he had no such unit idea in mind when he wrote it. Dante did have the unit-ideaof "the seven capital sins" in mind when he wrotePurgatorio;there,Dante the pilgrimand Virgilascend through seven terraces in order: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice and prodigality, gluttony,lust ,and Dante, like all other pilgrimsin purgatory,is purged of each of these sins on each level.

Since these sins can be purged, they are not deadly but capital. Therefore,strictly speaking,Lyman should not speak of "the seven deadlysins" in Dante's DivineComedyat all. Had Lyman defined carefullyhis centralterms,he mighthave avoided makingother, more fundamentalmistakes. It is true that evil is a global problem and thatvirtuallyall societiesdeal withit in some way; the same holds true forsin. However, the seven deadly This content downloaded from He is using TMS to disrupt deliberate self-deprecation—the type of unctuous, ingratiating behavior that seems humble but is actually disguised arrogance.

Patterns of brain activation during self-deprecation are fundamentally the same as those during selfdeceptive pride, Keenan is finding. Despite the enormous pool of potential research subjects, greed has not yet been systematically investigated in brain research. However, neuroscience does offer insight into a related phenomenon, the indignant outrage of the cheated.

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Our hatred of unfairness runs deep, even trumping rational self-interest. One of two partners is given a sum of money and told that he must offer some amount of his own choosing to his partner. If the partner rejects the offer, neither gets to keep any of the cash. On a rational basis, the receiving partner should accept any nonzero offer, since getting some money is always better than getting none at all. It makes sense that we are so sensitive to being cheated, notes Matthew Lieberman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Inequitable treatment might be an important sign that we are not valued by the group.

In response to unfair offers, the brain activates the pain detection process. It also engages the bilateral anterior insula, an area implicated in negative emotions such as anger, disgust, and social rejection.

The Seven Deadly Sins: Society and Evil

The overall picture that emerges from fMRI is that of a brain weighing an emotional response the urge to punish the guy who is cheating you against a logical response the appeal of the cash. People seemed to be swallowing their outrage to accept a reward that was inequitable but appealing. Similarly, getting a fair offer—even if it was small in absolute terms—activated regions in the brain that are involved in automatic and intuitive reward processing.

Justice apparently feels good. For that reason, it is also the least fun of the deadly sins; feeling jealous provides no dirty thrill. Volunteers in fMRI machines were asked to read three scenarios. The striatum is part of the so-called reward system, which can be activated by such pleasures as money, food, or sex, Takahashi says.

It may not have been the original sin, but rage is certainly primordial: Much of the brain circuitry active during anger is very basic and very fast. In humans, anger also enlists the conflict-detecting dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which immediately alerts other regions of the brain to pay attention. The more upset you get, the more it activates, according to Tom Denson, a psychologist at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

In people with short fuses, this part of the brain seems to be primed to feel provocation and personal slights, Denson says. Some of us are more easily enraged than others, but few are able to stifle rage completely. Instead we may convert overt hostility into angry brooding. To investigate the difference between short fusers and brooders, Denson antagonized his volunteers, insulting them while he scanned their brains.

The medial prefrontal cortex, associated with self-awareness and emotional regulation, quickly lit up in angry brooders. So did the hippocampus, involved in memory.

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  • As they fume, people repeatedly relive the insult in their minds. Denson found that the degree of hippocampal activation predicted how much people tended to ruminate. Do it! Similarly, people asked to imagine themselves engaging in aggressive behavior actively suppress activity in the prefrontal cortex, where social information is processed. By deliberately inhibiting our natural social response, we ready ourselves to strike out.

    Historically, moralists have not paid much heed to the findings of science, and it is safe to say that all the brain-scans in the world probably will not persuade modern theologians to recalculate the wages of sin. Still, they might want to observe one recent finding from modern neuroimaging: It turns out that acting virtuously does not really require a hair shirt. In fact, research suggests that it feels pretty good.

    Lyman, Stanford M. The Seven Deadly Sins: Society and Evil. New York: St. Martin's Press,

    Jordan Grafman recently found that virtue literally is its own reward. Altruistic behavior sends reward-related brain systems into a pleasurable tizzy—even more so than the prospect of self-interested gain. Call it the dirty little secret about being good: It might be even more fun than being wicked.