Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Is empathy necessary for morality? asks philosopher Jesse Prinz

The other night on the Australian TV show Q and A the Gillard Government Minister and union man Greg Combet impressed many viewers when he promptly showed concern when Simon Sheikh keeled over and collapsed on the panel's desk, while the Liberal pollie who was seated beside Sheikh, Sophie Mirabella, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research has been condemned by the masses for her unheartwarming response of leaning well away from Sheikh while wearing a look on her nasty, pouty face that defies description really. So many people have read so much into Mirabella's and Combet's contrasting responses, but there's no denying the fact that both politicians belong to parties that have asylum-seeker policies that have been criticized as inhumane and serious breaches of human rights, which makes me wonder, is personal empathy such a big deal anyway, and how does it influence moral actions, if at all? Sure enough, Mirabella is a festering blight on humanity, but aren't most pollies arseholes in suits?

Prinz, Jesse (accessed 2012) Is Empathy Necessary for Morality? Jesse Prinz.

Prinz, Jesse (2009) Is Empathy Necessary for Morality? Forthcoming In Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie (eds.), Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press. Philpapers.

Brooks, David (2011) The Limits of Empathy. New York Times. September 29th 2011.


Anonymous said...

As far as I can tell, morality is just how much personal responsibility you take for the people around you. The way I hear 'empathy' talked about it seems to be a way of politically excluding people; you only ever hear people claiming they have empathy and other people don't.

Lili Marlene said...

There's a definite lack of empathy in the comments from left-wing people at David Brooks' article accusing Brooks of a lack of empathy.

Lili Marlene said...

And a lack of genuine interest in what he actually wrote.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am the anon who invited you over to btw :D

I personally think that empathy is required for morality. This is because if you have no empathy, then you are just acting on your own ego desires and enacting laws that protect your own projection of those desires onto others.

"Morality," as far as I can define it for myself, embodies an "eye for an eye" type of philosophy-- meaning that a "moral" person will treat others as he/she himself/herself wants to be treated.

Empathy allows us to 'know' vicariously the pains of others-- so that we do not necessarily need to experience one's pain to 'know' what it feels like... or at least TRY very hard to understand others, and protect others from harm.

Complete lack of empathy reminds me of the personality of a psychopath-- those shameless guiltless souls who feel nothing for others, and only experience shallow base desires.

Lili Marlene said...

Ego desires? Projection? I think you might be coming from a Freudian approach to the topic, an approach that I honestly believe is complete nonsense.

I see no reason why guessing about the feelings of others is a requisite for understanding simple moral concepts such as reciprocity and fairness, and I also don't see why guessing about other's feelings is a requisite for having the motivation to act in accordance with fairness and reciprocity. Some very simple animals act in this way.

Lili Marlene said...

Sorry, race-based nationalist declarations are not on topic for this post, and considering that they are potentially offensive in addition to not relevant to this post, are not going to be published.

Anonymous said...

@LIli Marlene

This is the guy who is Freud's disciple

Your swift dismissal of my perspective bc the terminology reminds you of an approach that you "honestly believe nonsense" both qualifies as a logical fallacy and simultaneously as an example of my point. Your inability to see my point (no empathy) illuminates the very essence of what your topic is about. If you cannot empathize (or, in other words, see where I'm coming from) you'll never know whether or not (or to what degree) you've injured me.

Now, count how many times you have used the word "I" in your first response to me.

Also, you should know that the qualifier "honestly" doesn't much strengthen any argument in any fashion bc honest people don't really use that qualifier. Usually, honest people just speak the truth.

Also, it's rather ignorant to just dismiss the entirety of Freud's contribution to psychology just because he may have gotten some things wrong.

I mean, do you see how the Christians keep their faith after getting so many things wrong? U can't extend a little bit of that slack to Freud?

Well it seems like I've touched a hot button issue of yours, s look forward to your next response

Lili Marlene said...

My disdain for Freud is just a mirror of the way that science in general looks upon his work. As far as I can tell, no serious scientist in any branch of the scientific enterprise takes psychoanalysis seriously any more, and in some parts of the world, such as France and I recall Argentina, Freudian practitioners are still doing serious harm. Just Google the term "Le Mur" to see what I mean.

When I use the word I I am simply and honestly presenting my opinions as...... my opinions. It is the ultimate form of intellectual honesty. I cannot know what you really think or really feel, as mind-melding is only real in Star Trek, so I shouldn't say "you" instead of "I". And I should take great care when saying "we" instead of "I" in reference to what is known or believed because I can't be 100% sure of what others know or think. So the safest and most ethical way to make claims is to do it as an individual, an "I".