Augustine on suicide
Good News to All Creation

The case against empathy

Last night I read an interesitng essay in The New Yorker entitled "The Baby in the Well: The case against empathy" by Paul Bloom.  It discussed much of the recent work on empathy and how it has been discussed in the public sphere.  Many believe that we require an increase in empathy to solve our problems.  Bloom, and others disagree.  While they believe that empathy is important for developing a moral consciense, it is not the best moral guide.  

Empathy is what makes us human; it’s what makes us both subjects and objects of moral concern. Empathy betrays us only when we take it as a moral guide.

Rather, we need to develop our rational skills.  Currently we respond overwhelming to immediate disasters, particularly those that are easily covered by the media, but don't respond well to long term, large scale problems which usually harm and kill more people -- e. g. gun violence, lack of access to health care, global warming.

“The decline of violence may owe something to an expansion of empathy,” the psychologist Steven Pinker has written, “but it also owes much to harder-boiled faculties like prudence, reason, fairness, self-control, norms and taboos, and conceptions of human rights.” A reasoned, even counter-empathetic analysis of moral obligation and likely consequences is a better guide to planning for the future than the gut wrench of empathy.

In fact, sometimes empathy gets in the way of moral judgement, as we react in a way that is protective of those closest to us, but in a way that harms more people.  

Overall, it is a fascinating discussion, and one I recommend to you.


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