Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion

Paul Bloom, the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology (Ecco)

Paul Bloom, the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology


We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of the 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 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.

Basing his argument on scientific findings, Bloom makes the case that some of the worst decisions made by individuals and nations — who to give money to, when to go to war, how to respond to climate change, and who to imprison — are too often motivated by honest, yet misplaced, emotions. He demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the justice system; from medical care and education to parenting and marriage. Without empathy, Bloom insists, our decisions would be clearer, fairer, and ultimately more moral.

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