Hillary Rodham Clinton had a point when she recently urged: “The most important thing each of us can do… is to try even harder to see the world through our neighbors’ eyes, to imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes, to share their pain and their hopes and their dreams.”
Yale psychologist Paul Bloom objected that we can’t actually do that (at least not as well as we think we can), especially when our neighbor is someone in a quite different situation or condition—say, a stressed-out single parent, a traumatically scarred war veteran, or an autistic child.
Besides, declared Bloom, even if we could fully and accurately feel and see from another’s perspective, empathy is often too narrow and parochial to serve as a moral guide.
Far less limited, Bloom asserts, is reason: specifically, the impartial principles and procedures of justice. We should “step back” from empathy and “apply an objective and fair morality,” a “dispassionate analysis” of distressing situations. Bloom has even declared that “empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive.”
By John C. Gibbs and Martin L. Hoffman