Empathy and morality
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Many of us will find it intuitive that there exists an important link between the ability to feel for others on the one hand and the ability to care for them and attend to their needs on the other—that is, between a capacity for empathy and a capacity for morality. But spelling out the details is hard to do. Not only must we say something about what having these distinct capacities amounts to; there is also the problem of specifying how precisely empathy enables morality. Does empathy provide cognitive or epistemic support, insofar as it enhances a person’s moral sensibilities? Or does it simply provide motivational support by way of raising the likelihood of morally praiseworthy behaviour? We may also ask questions in the other direction: to what extent (if any) does a capacity for morality implicate or enhance a capacity for empathy?
While empirical research can shed light on these questions, studies to date have been hampered by a theoretical slipperiness in the...
I am very grateful to Victoria McGeer and Edward Elliott for insightful comments on a previous draft of this essay.
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