Why The Empathy Critics Are Wrong: Empathy Doesn’t Break Democracy, It Makes It

By Roman Krznaric 

You can always tell when a new idea is becoming popular – people start critiquing it. That’s certainly the case when it comes to empathy, a concept that is getting more public attention today than at any point in its history (the frequency of Google searches for the word ‘empathy’ has more than doubled in the past decade).

Amongst the critics is the psychologist Paul Bloom, who in a recent piece in the New Yorker argued that the ‘gut wrench of empathy’ is a flawed basis for morality and an ineffective force for political change. Amongst his arguments is that empathy doesn’t work very well across distance (we empathise more with people close to us than far away strangers) and that it’s partial (we more easily step into the shoes of people who are like us than unlike us).


Alongside Bloom other empathy critics wading

into the debate include

the philosopher Jesse Prinz,

the political commentator David Brooks, psychologist Steven Pinker,

and the former Archbishop of

Canterbury Rowan Williams.