Empathy Notes #3: Empathy versus rationality?

Recent cogent critiques of empathy promote rationality as its antidote.  But each of these powerful capacities has gifts and limitations.  We need to use them well together to address our current challenges and make a better world.

Several weeks ago my good friend Miki Kashtan sent me two articles  – ”The Baby in the Well” by Paul Bloom and ”The Case Against Empathy” by David Harris-Gershon – that critically compare empathy with reason.

These two essays maintain that empathy causes us to focus on the narrow needs of visibly suffering individuals – especially those who are like us or whom we know and love.

This focus distracts us from broader or invisible suffering – and from the systemic causes of suffering – for which changes in policy, systems, culture, etc., are called for rather than our personal kindness and help. Therefore, suggest the essayists Paul Bloom and David Harris-Gershon, reason is a more dependable guide to our moral responses than empathy.

by Tom Atlee