• Michael SloteEmail author
Open Access
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Comparative East-West Philosophy book series (PSCEWP)


This book seeks overall to identify some important but previously unnoticed ways in which psychology can help philosophers. The early chapters discuss the relative merits of Chinese and Western philosophy. Chapter  2 argues that the Chinese notion of heart-mind is accurate to our psychology in a way that the Western concept of mind is not. Chapter  3 criticizes traditional Chinese and Western ideas about moral self-cultivation, and Chap.  4 speaks more generally of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of the two traditions. Chapter  5 describes how the psychology of empathy is relevant to speech act theory. Chapter  6 discusses how recent psychology can help us show that justice “pays.” And Chap.  7 seeks to demonstrate that psychological egoism is much less of a challenge to ethics and our self-understanding than is commonly believed. Chapter  8 expands on some of the themes of earlier chapters.


Egoism Heart-mind Justice Mind Psychology Self-cultivation 

This book begins with questions about the relationship between Chinese and Western philosophy, but its overall emphasis is on the relationship, the essential intellectual relationship, between philosophy and psychology. The three chapters that follow this introduction address such issues within an East-West context, but the discussion then moves on to questions about that relationship that are interesting and important in their own philosophical right even though they don’t (with two notable exceptions) make us engage with the relationship between East and West. For the purposes of this book the relationship between East and West is very important, but the relationship between philosophy and psychology is even more important. Thus issues about psychology play an important role in the East-West comparisons of the first part of this book, but in the second part of this book and to a large extent independently of such comparisons, we shall see how an emphasis on ideas from psychology can help us resolve ethical and more generally philosophical questions that have previously not yielded to purely philosophical treatment.

Chapter  5 will outline the way or ways in which the concept of empathy, much explored in the recent literature of psychology, can be of philosophical use to us. Empathy plays a role in the open-mindedness that recent virtue epistemology has treated as a prime epistemic/rational virtue. It also can help us better understand the present-day philosophy potential of ideas that now lie buried in the history of philosophical: most particularly, Francis Hutcheson’s idea of a moral sense and Thomas Reid’s view that testimony has intrinsic rational authority. Most importantly of all, we shall see that empathy plays an important role in speech acts that speech act theory has till now totally ignored. Chapters  6 and  7 will drop the emphasis on empathy but will continue to operate between psychology and philosophy. They will deal respectively with the question whether justice (or moral virtue) pays in egoistic terms and the question whether total psychological egoism is a human possibility that ethicists need to worry about, but will do so in ways that bring in psychology in some unprecedented ways.

The first part of this book deals with philosophical issues that in different ways bridge the gap between Eastern/Chinese and Western thought. Chapter  2 considers the difference between the Western notion of “mind” and the Far Eastern idea of “heart-mind,” and it argues that there are good philosophical reasons to discard the former notion in favor of the latter. In Chap.  3, I consider what Chinese philosophers have said about moral self-cultivation and compare and contrast those ideas with what has been said in the West on that topic. It is argued that both the Chinese and Western approaches to cultivating one’s own virtue are psychologically unrealistic. Then Chap.  4 discusses weaknesses or deficiencies that differentially affect Chinese and Western philosophical thinking. The West unfortunately tends to play down the importance of psychological sensitivity to the treatment of ethical issues, whereas, by contrast, Chinese philosophy can be criticized for lacking a tradition of precise, analytic thinking that would allow greater clarity into their treatments of philosophical questions. However, in this increasingly internationalized world, it is possible to hope for remedies to both these problems.

As I have indicated, Chap.  5 and following drop the East-West focus and take on in a more general way some philosophical issues that can clarified and perhaps even resolved via a greater reliance on psychological findings. In the last 50 years many studies or experiments done by psychologists have done a great deal to stimulate interest in the topic of empathy, both in philosophy and in the general public. (The ethologist Frans de Waal has published a book called The Age of Empathy.) But I shall argue in Chap.  5 that the philosophers, not to mention to psychologists or ethologists, have greatly underestimated the philosophical importance of the concept or phenomenon of empathy. It is widely believed, for example, that empathy puts us directly in touch with the minds or feelings of others, but it can be argued further, and I shall argue this in Chap.  5, that empathy can also put us in touch with what other people have learned about the world outside of human consciousness. I shall further argue that the concept of empathy can provide the basis for the moral sense that Hutcheson spoke of in a way that Francis Hutcheson himself and even Hume (who spoke of empathy in a way Hutcheson never did) did not. Empathy also helps support Thomas Reid’s idea that testimony (or assertion) has intrinsic rational authority. But the most important use of empathy in Chap.  5 will concern its role in a wide variety of (or perhaps all) speech acts, something that speech act theorists have never paid any attention to.

Chapters  6 and  7 will leave empathy mainly behind and will speak of other ways in which psychology can be relevant to philosophy. There is a long tradition going back to Plato of attempting to show that justice pays, but we nowadays in the West don’t think we have to show that justice pays in order to assure ourselves of the value and validity of being moral or morally virtuous. Chinese thought never made the mistake of assuming that morality or justice must pay in order to have a valid claim on us, and the West, as I just indicated, has finally caught up with such thinking. But it is still interesting for ethics to consider whether justice or virtue does pay in self-interested terms, and Chap.  6, using ideas about our human psychology that ethicists have not previously relied on, argues that it in an important way or ways does. Then Chap.  7 seeks to show that the idea of the purely egoistic or self-interested individual, an idea that has traditionally, in the West, been thought of as a stumbling block to the justification of morality, is deeply confused. No one is purely egoistic and no evolutionarily possible intelligent being could be egoistic. So Plato was mistaken to think we have to show that virtue pays in egoistic terms, but he, like so many subsequent others, was also mistaken in assuming that ethics needs to meet some sort of challenge of persuading the pure egoist to be ethical. There are no such people, and, in addition, it is psychologically unrealistic to assume that any deeply immoral being could be persuaded by arguments to be ethical. Chapter  8 then closes the main discussion by mentioning ways in which what was said in earlier chapters about the fruitful interaction between psychology and philosophy can be extended in various further directions. The book’s conclusion speculates on some of the implications of the present study for possible future philosophizing, and there are also three appendices. One deals with the virtue of open-mindedness in a much more thoroughgoing way—and also in a much more skeptical fashion—than was done in Chap.  4. The second appendix argues that social justice and our sense of justice are (surprisingly!) grounded in the psychology of empathy (an idea alluded to but not followed through on in footnote in Chap.  8). In making its arguments, the second appendix also expands on and is more specific about what was said in Chap.  4 about the bias male philosophers tend to have against work done by female philosophers. The third appendix expands on what was said in Chap.  7 about the connection between adult identities and yin-yang virtue to consider how that connection might lead us to a psychologically realistic picture of what good human lives involve and are like.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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