An Amazon Best Book of December 2016: Raise your hand if you’re against empathy. No one…? Paul Bloom freely admits that taking a stance against empathy is a position that most people will shun. But as Bloom lays out his argument for why rational analysis, morality, and compassion are better compass points to follow for making the world a better place, indeed, empathy begins to sound like a miserable basis for decision-making. Parenting, charity, psychotherapy, and war all come under Bloom’s scrutiny, and with a wry voice and lots of examples, he knocks down one by one the arguments for why empathy would create better outcomes. Careful to draw the line between compassion and empathy, Bloom can sometimes sound like he’s retreading the same argument’s path, but his tongue-in-cheek asides keep the book entertaining and drew me to the end long after I’d come to agree with his premise. For those who want to understand better how the heart and head battle for supremacy and which organ should be a better guide, this is a counterintuitive approach that’s as entertaining to read as it is informative.
We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don’t have enough of it.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, argues Yale researcher Paul Bloom. In AGAINST EMPATHY, Bloom reveals empathy to be one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it, but to draw instead upon a more distanced compassion.
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