Empathy and Morality – Heidi L. Maibom (ed.),- Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Having the ability to empathize with another person seems to be a good thing, even a morally good thing. If asked to choose between two worlds distinguished only in respect to the existence of empathy among humans, most of us would probably choose the one where empathy exists.

In light of those intuitions, which we assume to be widely shared, it seems to be rather surprising that within the Western philosophical tradition empathy as the focus of a sustained intellectual debate has existed only since the 18th century when moral sentimentalists like David Hume and Adam Smith argued for the centrality of empathy, or what they then called sympathy, in constituting moral agency.

Their appreciation for empathy within the moral domain has, however, not been universally shared. More recently, even philosophers sympathetic to the sentimentalist project have voiced their skepticism in this respect (Prinz 2011a and b).

 For them, empathy’s positive reputation within the moral domain is highly overrated, particularly in light of the results of decade-long empirical research on the relationship between empathy and moral phenomena.