At Harvard, Rowan Williams lectures on the paradoxes of empathy

  • Lecture 1 – “The Other as Myself: Empathy and Power”

  • Lecture 2 – “Myself as Stranger: Empathy and Loss”

  • Tanner Seminar

Despite that optimism, “The Paradoxes of Empathy” was the title of the 2014 Tanner Lectures on Human Values delivered at Harvard last week by Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012.

Fellow feeling alone, he argued, cannot serve as a solution to the world’s problems. “An ethical discourse which gives central place to empathy as emotional identification draws our attention away from questions of culture and power,” he told a packed audience in Paine Hall. “Ethics isn’t just about single acts of evil or virtue. Evil is not overcome merely by identifying and correcting the dysfunction of individual brains. It’s inseparably bound in to what is made possible or impossible by structures of habit, belief, and advantage.”


Empathy, therefore, is grounded in
humility. Quoting Stein, he said,
“The empathic position is one in
which we know that we are not the other.” 


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