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?

  • ... are brainwashed...?
    – Jim
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 4:24
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    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
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 9:08
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    Although not a single word, manipulated by propaganda is a textbook description of German commoners in Nazi Germany.
    – Stu W
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 17:41
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    Uninformed? Ignorant? Short-sighted? Not considering the wider picture / the wider consequences. Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 18:04
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    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
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 19:23

11 Answers 11


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).


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.
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 18:00
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    Fair point, I agree that naive needs context to avoid the implicit connotation of "generally naive".
    – bernz
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 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.

  • I would not use this adjective for the context. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amoral
    – user140086
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 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
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 5:03

You ask: "What would we call a person who cannot differentiate between right and wrong?" "Can not" and "Will not" are the operative terms we must emphasize to look for when figuring out which word to use in this situation.

A Sociopath is one to whom "morality" does not exist, a "can't" person. This stresses the INABILITY of someone to sort actions into two empirical categories, right and wrong; To this person the very concept of right and wrong does not exist. (Amoral- "I CAN do no wrong, for I do NOT know what it is." -Satan in The Adventures of Mark Twain)

Contrast this with: Psychopath, one who actively does things they know are wrong (Immoral- "I don't care, I'm doing it anyway."), OR they believe that they exhibit or create the standard of morality. (Trans-moral is a term that I have sort-of coined, or co-opted- "If I am doing it, then it must not be wrong.") At it's core, this implies acknowledgement that morality exists and that it has a standard, and actively doing something contrary to that standard, motives aside. [ in rebuttal to @Baiwr ]

The terms must always be relative to the intent and the socio-cultural milieu of the one being described, to wit:

If a person has been raised steeped in propoganda in North Korea, then it would not be abnormal to justify anything The Great Leader says or does. Because how can you refute god?

Another perspective: If you were the child of Kim Jong-Il, or go, according to every single person you will interact with during your formative years believes to be true, and you were told that when you become The Great Leader that you are also god, then your brain will add this to a long list of other memes (I use the word in it's original context as a unit of information, not it's connotative definition as a unit of lolcats on teh intArwebz), and you will conclude that whatever you do is right, you can do no wrong because how can god do wrong?

To move on to the second topic of my answer: The answer to the question OP poses will not properly fit into the sentence they have provided.(Oh how I do tread grammatical grey areas such as my choice of gender-neutral singular pronoun)

That, in reality, is two questions, the second implied question being:

"How or with what word would one describe a person, persons, a people, or peoples who believe that the leader of a country in which they may or may not actually reside or hold citizenship is qualified or (time to coin yet another new word) supra-qualified to govern and/or is considered to be morally or personally equivalent or superior to themselves, as stated from the viewpoint of one who believes such to be false at best or totally antithetical at worst, and done in a condescendingly euphemistic pejorative or in a way in which the connotation of the descriptor is condescending or is used in similarly condescendingly occlusive implications, such as tone or body language."

I'm sorry but your example sentence is so vastly inappropriate (in gramatical terms, I make no statement as to my or your beliefs) that I am purposefully expounding on the difference between the question you asked and the question I can infer you meant to ask and now why it is inappropriate with as much hyperbole as I can muster, while at the same time absolutely intentionally not giving you a word that I know that is the word you are seeking, which is merely implied between the non-sequitur of your stated question in order to make a point. (If I'm being too anal or harsh, I appologize, but I do assume that this particular English Q&A website is held to much higher standards than other English topical discussion boards or sites.)

My pointless exposition on a topic that is nearly a year old already (and will most likely never be read by OP) is complete.


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

  • 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
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 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.

  • Plain incompetent works from a psychological standpoint.
    – David M
    Commented Oct 2, 2019 at 1:26

Such people can be called impressionable because of their lack of critical ability (to distinguish between right and wrong, in this context).


impressionable ADJECTIVE

Easily influenced because of a lack of critical ability.

‘One might say that impressionable young men recklessly believe what their officers tell them.’

Also, credulous.


credulous ADJECTIVE

Having or showing too great a readiness to believe things.

‘But never be so credulous that you just believe everything that you're told.’


Words such as "foolish" and "stupid" suggest intellectual challenges, which are not necessarily the case. People can be ignorant of right or wrong behaviours or even naive of harm being done to them for mere lack of exposure, experience or parental guidance. Often, very bright children are exceedingly trustful socially for lack of exposure to harmful acts. The sheltered child therefore is defenseless against moral injustices (which is why it is actually abusive to shelter children since it breaks down their natural defences). On the other hand, there are children exposed to wrongful behaviour all their lives (violence, dishonesty) who accept these behaviours as normal or essential for survival and are quite unable to perceive them as "wrong" - at the very least they perceive these behaviours as "necessary". Hence the description stands equally for the innocent, the morally twisted or the morally confused person.

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    Where does this come from? It sounds like a quotation.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 3, 2017 at 20:41

I believe "affluenza" may suffice. Defined as... "A social theory claiming that individuals with very privileged and wealthy backgrounds sometimes struggle to determine the difference between right and wrong due to the nature of their upbringing. Also known as sudden-wealth syndrome" - Business Dictionary.


Not exactly on point, but close is the term AKRASIA, derived from the Greek Plato's work on ethics. Akrasia is lack of moral willpower to make the right choice - one that is not against your own best interests. Imagine a serious alcoholic. He knows he is messing up at work and will soon be fired. He knows he is messing up at home and will soon lose his family. Yet on the way home he cannot chose to NOT stop at the bar and have a drink or two or ten to relax before going home. Not really unable to distinguish between right and wrong, just lacking the moral willpower to make the right choice.


I suspect that the word you are looking for is "foolish" or perhaps "gullible". Since you are trying to describe people who have accepted the idea that Kim Jong Un is a great leader despite many indications that he is not, the issue is not that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong, but that they are unable to rightly assess the character of this leader.

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    We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – NVZ
    Commented Jan 12, 2017 at 2:50

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