I have been reading through the comment-available publication of Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Generous Thinking and have been led to observe:
Are there two empathies? Empathy of feeling and empathy of imagination. And is not reason and critique that which allows the participant in a communicative situation to ferry between the focus on the self (how do I feel?) and a focus on the other (what is the other feeling?). Inserted into this space is judgement which of course is open to inspection. Empathy invites a sort of mapping and a consideration of the rightness of that mapping.
Such a tripartite view of empathy is rooted in a belief that all communication is mediated. It addresses Paul Bloom’s reductio ad absurdum: “The necessity of feeling exactly the same things as another person makes empathetic connection, especially with those whose life experiences and personal values may be quite different from our own, all but impossible.” Empathy actually operates in the gap, in difference, and in an awareness that the map is not the territory. It doesn’t flatten or transfer affect. It brings the mind to bear on emotion.
Comments I made before engaging with Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.
Inspired by Fitzpatrick, I picked up Bloom’s book.
The library catalogue I consulted gave an abstract of Bloom’s book based on the paratext (the dust jacket):
“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 [this book], Bloom [posits that] empathy [is] 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”–Dust jacket flap.
Within the book, the case is made in a less outlandish fashion (see page 35). For one, Bloom has a highly focused target: “I’ve been focusing here on empathy in the Adam Smith sense, of feeling what others feel and, in particular, feeling their pain.” This reminder comes after a paragraph outlining the argument and the marshalling of examples:
The issues here go beyond policy. I’ll argue that what really matters for kindness in our everyday interactions is not empathy but capacities such as self-control and intelligence and a more diffuse compassion. Indeed, those who are high in empathy can be too caught up in the suffering of other people. If you absorb the suffering of others, then you’re less able to help them in the long run because achieving long-term goals often requires inflicting short-term pain. Any good parent, for instance, often has to make a child do something, or stop doing something, in a way that causes the child immediate unhappiness but is better for him or her in the future. Do your homework, eat your vegetables, go to bed at a reasonable hour, sit still for this vaccination, go to the dentist. Making children suffer temporarily for their own good is made possible by love, intelligence, and compassion, but yet again, it can be impeded by empathy.
How odd to arrive in the same place; one of us using a bulldozer and the other tweezers.
And so for day 2109