The Trouble With Empathy

My complaint is against empathy as a moral guide. But as a source of pleasure, it can’t be beat.

At a time when politicians, journalists, and public figures of all kinds confidently proclaim empathy as a cure for the world’s ills, Bloom argues for exactly the opposite. In his research on the subject, as well as in experiments conducted with his graduate students at the Mind and Development Lab at Yale University, Bloom has made the case that empathy is an unreliable moral guide, one that can be easily exploited.

Clarity of definition remains important for Bloom in his popular writing, which at times engenders public critiques that range from polite to downright furious. And so throughout our interview, Bloom was careful to define his terms. “What I mean by ‘empathy,’” he told me, putting forth a definition that attempts to complicate the more typical understanding, “is putting yourself in other people’s shoes, feeling what they feel.”

Allyson Kirkpatrick interviews Paul Bloom