Empathy Is “a Poor Moral Guide”

(p. C4) “Against Empathy” is an invigorating, relevant and often very funny re-evaluation of empathy, one of our culture’s most ubiquitous sacred cows, which in Mr. Bloom’s view should be gently led to the abattoir. He notes that there are no less than 1,500 books listed on Amazon with “empathy” in the title or subtitle. In politics, practically no higher value exists than being empathetic: Think of the words “I feel your pain” coming from Bill Clinton through a strategically gnawed lip.
. . .
Mr. Bloom, a psychology professor at Yale, is having none of it. Empathy, he argues, is “a poor moral guide” in almost all realms of life, whether it’s public policy, private charity or interpersonal relationships. “Empathy is biased, pushing us in the direction of parochialism and racism,” he writes.
. . .
His point, . . . , is that empathy is untempered by reason, emanating from the murky bayou of the gut. He prefers a kind of rational compassion — a mixture of caring and detached cost-benefit analysis. His book is a systematic attempt to show why this is so.
To those who say empathy is essential to morality, he’d reply that morality has many sources. “Many wrongs” — like littering or cheating on your taxes — “have no distinct victims to empathize with.” Nor does it appear that the most empathetic people behave the most ethically. “There have been hundreds of studies, with children and adults,” he writes, “and overall the results are: meh.”

For the full review, see:
JENNIFER SENIOR . “Books of The Times; Have a Heart, but Be Careful Not to Lose Your Head.” The New York Times (Weds., December 7, 2016): C4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 6, 2016, and has the title “Books of The Times; Review: ‘Against Empathy,’ or the Right Way to Feel Someone’s Pain.”)

The book under review, is:
Bloom, Paul. Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. New York: Ecco, 2016.

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