It should not come as a surprise to anyone that, as a strict materialist, I accept the standard neuroscientific model of consciousness. That means that everything we think, feel, remember, and do is a function of the brain. This includes the emotion of empathy.
We are not empathic because it makes sense to be empathic – meaning that most humans don’t simply reason their way to empathy. Nor do we simply learn empathy (although brain development is an interactive process with the environment, so we can’t rule out environmental influences). For the most part, we have empathy because our brains are wired with empathy as a specific function.
by Steven Novella