Summary of Against Empathy

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Against Empathy book summary
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Cognitive psychologist Paul Bloom believes “empathy” often causes more suffering than it cures. He leverages a heady, entertaining combination of philosophy, scientific research and anecdotes to argue that empathy-driven decisions frequently run counter to reason. They lead people to indulge their biases, justify violence and sacrifice the long-term good of the many for the short-term gains of the few. Bloom dismantles claims that favor empathy in several arenas, including charity, politics, medicine and parenthood. He offers a concurrent argument for “rational compassion.” getAbstract recommends his exegesis to forward-thinking humanitarians and those seeking a better understanding of the ethics of emotion, rationality and altruism. 

About the Author

Paul Bloom, PhD, is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research focuses on moral psychology, child development and social reasoning. His previous books include Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil.



“The Power of Empathy”

Empathy – the capacity to experience life as another person experiences it – is often touted as the primary agent of morality and as humanity’s greatest tool for bettering the world. The cry for “more empathy” arises in the face of violence, oppression, and other ills. If “your pain becomes my pain,” the argument goes, people will identify with and help one another. The modern tendency to exalt empathy coincides with a number of related beliefs, including the notion that humans aren’t rational beings and the idea that reasoning applies only to moral decision making after the fact. Emotion does affect decision making, but it doesn’t need to prevent or get ahead of rational thought. People can recognize that racial discrimination is wrong, even if some find that it may feel instinctive. Most people acknowledge that you don’t need to empathize with a drowning child to attempt a rescue. Moral action can – and often does – stem from more than just empathy.

Empathy’s Limitations

Empathy can generate positive actions, and acting empathetically certainly feels good. Yet empathy’s weaknesses outweigh its strengths...

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