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What would we call a person who cannot differentiate between right and wrong?

I want to use this in my prose in a context as:

IMO, people who think Kim Jong Un is a great leader are [don't want to say stupid or unintelligent].

What can be used here?

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... are brainwashed...? – Jim Mar 5 at 4:24
@Jim Brainwashed is more like influenced. Can biased be used? – Dumbledore Mar 5 at 4:25
If you would like to portray the people as innocent, perhaps the word, naive? ODO definition: "showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgment." E.g., "He has been particularly criticized for lack of military experience and naive views of warfare." – Kyle Mar 5 at 9:08
Although not a single word, manipulated by propaganda is a textbook description of German commoners in Nazi Germany. – Stu W Mar 5 at 17:41
If you "don't want to say it" even though you think it's true, "intellectually challenged," "cognitively challenged," or "experiencing cognitive dissonance" might work. – alephzero Mar 5 at 19:23
up vote 10 down vote accepted

The word amoral may be what you want, but people who act amorally may be able to differentiate between what others call right and wrong, but they do not recognize any worth in the distinction and act accordingly. For a term that means someone who who does not recognize the difference between right and wrong, we can go back to the somewhat-archaic term moral imbecile. Such persons need not be intellectually impaired, but they are incapable of intellectually understanding other's distinction between good and evil and unable to have any emotional connection to the concepts. A clinical description may be found in Mental Deficiency (amentia) by A F Tredgold (1922).

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From your example, it sounds like you are talking not about someone who is incapable of morality, but rather someone who lacks judgment about someone else's morality. Such a person could be described as naive ( those who are picky about diacritics would render it naïve, note the two dots above the 'i' ).

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I upvoted your answer. But naive could be synonymous with stupid or unintelligent depending on context which lacks in the question. But definitely naive is better than amoral. – Rathony Mar 5 at 18:00
Fair point, I agree that naive needs context to avoid the implicit connotation of "generally naive". – bernz Mar 6 at 16:31

People who can't differentiate between right and wrong (have no moral compass) are amoral

Google Definition:


lacking a moral sense; unconcerned with the rightness or wrongness of something.

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I would not use this adjective for the context. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amoral – Rathony Mar 5 at 4:57
But consider that people can have wildly different opinions about what's right and what's wrong. (I won't cite examples, for fear of triggering religious/political debates.) – jamesqf Mar 5 at 5:03

Amoral is not immoral, be aware of that. The psycopath makes no difference between right and wrong, good and evil. He's not immoral but amoral, what is worst.

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It doesn't really fit into the context, though. I gave +1 because nobody else mentioned it. Also, sociopath and antisocial [personality] are more modern terms. – Stu W Mar 5 at 17:37

In the context that you describe:

IMO, people who think Kim Jong Un is a great leader are […]

I would say that socially incompetent/inept would be a good way of describing their behavior and character:

IMO, people who think Kim Jong Un is a great leader are socially inept.

Another term I would use is being morally tone deaf to a situation:

IMO, people who think Kim Jong Un is a great leader are morally tone deaf.

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You can use many adjectives and nouns to describe someone who can't tell right from wrong. But, in your specific context, I would suggest using "indoctrinated". To indoctrinate means:

Teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically

Indoctrination means:

the process of forcibly inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine) by coercion.

As Jim suggested in the comment, "brain-washed" is a synonym of indoctrinated. To brainwash means:

Pressurize (someone) into adopting radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible means

[Oxford Online Dictionary, Wikipedia]

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Where do you get the idea that someone in this context must have been acted on by an outside influencer to indoctrinate or brainwash them? Some people simple are socially incompetent/inept and that is their view of the world. – JakeGould Mar 5 at 17:26
@JakeGould How many do you think know who Kim Jong Un is in the world? How many people in the U.S. (some of whom don't even know their president's name or his religion) do you think know who Kim Jong Un is. Almost all the people who think Kim Jong Un is a great leader are North Koreans who were indoctrinated and brain-washed. The OP didn't want stupid or unintelligent. Simple could be synonymous with stupid or unintelligent. You need to have some judgement ability with which you can know who Kim JU is and judge he is great or poor. The question is tricky as it excludes stupid/unintelligent. – Rathony Mar 5 at 17:57

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