Reason, Empathy and Constant Choices

Who would argue against the value of empathy? Most would consider the ability to identify with and feel the suffering of others as one of our most valuable traits. Yet some disagree. Paul Bloom, the cognitive psychologist and probably the most respectable buzz kill on this subject, has consistently argued against empathy. Not that he believes there’s anything wrong with it; simply that it isn’t effective.

For him, reason is our only hope. As a scientist, he employs reason to make his case, and he points to our rational faculty as our only reliable resource for changing human behavior and making the world a better place. He believes that if you reason with people in order to reveal the truth about our inter-dependency as a species, we will be good to one another.

Beneath this assumption is the old Socratic notion that if you know what’s good you will do it. It’s an extremely optimistic view of human nature; plus it depends on the assumption is that our rational faculties rule us. In comparison with reason, Bloom dismisses empathy as superfluous and unreliable.

Peter A. Georgescu