Empathy Works, up to a Certain Number: It’s necessary to punish cheaters in large groups.

Many moral philosophers place empathy—or some close emotion, such as sympathy, compassion, loving kindness, benevolence, pity, or mercy—at the center of the moral life. Such emotions serve as the underpinning of morality, supplying the motivation to act morally. Feelings and reason are linked, but since feelings exist prior to thought, feelings are both logically and psychologically prior to reason…


Empathy is dissipated as groups grow larger,
so it needs the element of punishment
to keep backsliders in line.


Empathy is dissipated as groups grow larger, so it needs the element of punishment to keep backsliders in line. This doesn’t undermine the fact that humans are highly cooperative creatures. Professor of environmental science and policy Peter Richerson gives this illustration: “I’ve pointed out to my students how impressive it is that you can take a group of young men and women of prime reproductive age, have them come into a classroom, sit down and be perfectly comfortable and civil to each other.


If you put 50 male and 50 female chimpanzees that don’t know each other into a lecture hall, it would be a social explosion.”


by Arthur Dobrin