Empathy is often viewed as a miraculous cure-all against humanity’s suffering. If only we were better able to tap into another living being’s feelings, then perhaps we would treat each other kinder. There would be a better sense of social justice. Maybe there would be less violence and hatred. All in all, the world would be a better place.
Author and psychologist Paul Bloom thinks that notion couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, he believes empathy often makes things worse.
In 2016, Bloom came out with a book titled “Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion,” where he uses personal anecdotes, moments from history, scientific evidence and philosophy to make the argument that empathy, while certainly important, is a poor moral guide. Furthermore, he noted that judgments made from empathy often reflect a bias, as we naturally feel the most empathy for the people who look, speak or behave similarly to us. It’s easy to see how that can quickly become a problem.
Instead, Bloom advocates for something he calls rational compassion. In his opinion, our fairest, most equitable decisions happen when there’s a healthy combination of both logic and caring for another. This way, we can be motivated by someone’s feelings to do the right thing, without being stuck (and aimless) in their suffering.
Bloom’s book was ultimately met with mixed reviews, with some calling his work “brilliant and humane” while others deemed it an argument of semantics rather than an unconventional take. Regardless, his work shines a light on the necessity of action for creating positive change, and he makes a compelling case for examining the motivation behind even our best intentions.
You can learn more about his case against empathy in the video created by Big Think below