Alternative to Empathy

Paul Bloom, the noted Yale psychologist, wrote, in a 2013 New Yorker article and again in a 2014 Boston Review forum, “against empathy.”

We are urged to feel empathy in order to do good for others, but empathy is a poor guide to altruism. Empathy is “parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate,” Bloom writes. We empathize much more with people who resemble us in background, looks, or character (that is, people who seem moral and deserving just like we assume we are) than with people who are different, odd, or potentially at fault.

Thus, the baby fallen in the well in the next town deserves moving heaven and earth to save her, while tens of thousands of starving, deformed refugees thousands of miles away — not so much.

How can empathy’s discrimination be morally justified, Bloom asks. Isn’t there a better guide?