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The Case Against Empathy

May 19, 2013, 4:00 PM

What's the Latest Development?

The concept of empathyputting yourself into another's shoeshas fueled political and moral thinking of late, inspiring presidents and academics to hail the feeling of another's pain as necessary to curing the world's ills. Crucial to empathy is "victim identification", by which we come to know the human face of tragedy. As a result, we are far more likely to give donations to a person whose picture we see on the news than seek solutions for systemic problems, such as underfunded hospitals, that affect the lives of far more individuals. In other words, empathy can result in the sacrificing of the many for the one. 

What's the Big Idea?

Globalization has resulted in a call for a global ethics, one in which all the people of the world are considered part of the human family. Unfortunately, empathy does not function on such a large scale. "The power of this faculty has something to do with its ability to bring our moral concern into a laser pointer of focused attention. If a planet of billions is to survive, however, we’ll need to take into consideration the welfare of people not yet harmed—and, even more, of people not yet born. They have no names, faces, or stories to grip our conscience or stir our fellow-feeling. Their prospects call, rather, for deliberation and calculation."

Photo credit: Shutterstock.com

Read it at the New Yorker



The Case Against Empathy

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