In a divided world, empathy is not the solution, it is the problem.
We think of empathy – the ability to feel the suffering of others for ourselves – as the ultimate source of all good behaviour. But while it inspires care and protection in personal relationships, it has the opposite effect in the wider world. As the latest research in psychology and neuroscience shows, we feel empathy most for those we find attractive and who seem similar to us and not at all for those who are different, distant or anonymous. Empathy therefore biases us in favour of individuals we know while numbing us to the plight of thousands. Guiding us expertly through the experiments, case studies and arguments on all sides, Paul Bloom ultimately shows that some of our worst decisions – in charity, child-raising, criminal justice, climate change and war – are motivated by this wolf in sheep's clothing.
Brilliantly argued, urgent and humane, Against Empathy overturns widely held assumptions to reveal one of the most profound yet overlooked sources of human conflict.
Psychologist Bloom (Just Babies) makes the provocative argument that empathy is not the vital catalyst for human morality it is thought to be, and that the impulse toward empathetic feelings should, in fact, be suppressed. The argument centers on empathetic bias, where people favor those they can more easily relate to, which in Bloom's analysis leads to "parochialism and racism." Furthermore, empathy often gets hijacked by individual political persuasions, and its "spotlight" focus can bypass rational thought, ignoring important context. Bloom takes aim at scientific claims about "mirror neurons" supposedly linked to empathetic thought, and at the use of empathy-measuring scales in laboratory settings. He also points out the misery that occurs for those who experience empathy too deeply. Bloom's solution is a morality based on "self-control," "intelligence," and "diffuse compassion," an innate kindness that exists in people independent of empathy. Not surprisingly, his prescriptions don't quite convince. His political arguments are obtuse. His assertion that moral feelings about issues like global warming exist without immediate victims to empathize with is only true if one does not take into account caring for one's children's futures. Still, there is something here. While Bloom may not entirely vanquish empathy, he makes a powerful appeal for a more reasonable and responsible deployment of it.
Customer ReviewsSee All
This sensational title does not deliver on its promise. The ideas within hold nothing that can’t be found elsewhere. The arguments are weak. Dissapointing and a waste of money.