(Don't) Walk a Mile in their Shoes
By Amy Willis
Our ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes and understand what they’re feeling is part of what makes us human. But this same ability may not serve us well, especially when we use it as our guide in making moral and/or political decisions. That’s the contention of Yale University psychologist Paul Bloom in his new book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. Bloom sat down with EconTalk host Russ Roberts this week to chat about how we might inject reason and make the world a better place.
1. What’s the difference between empathy and compassion, according to Bloom, and why does he argue that compassion serves us better in our decision-making?2. What sorts of negative unintended consequences does empathy present in charitable giving? Does Bloom give an adequate account of how such issues might be mitigated? How compatible is Bloom’s work on empathy with the “effective altruism” movement? Will either affect the way you pursue your own philanthropic goals?
3. Bloom describes himself as being “pro-rationality.” What does he mean by this, and how does he propose rationality and empathy combine? He notes that his book isn’t intended as a self-help guide, though he does give a nod to meditation. What strategies can you recommend for adding reason to empathy?
4. There are (at least) two big “what happened” questions lurking beneath this entire conversation. One might be, why has our culture grown so hostile to reason? The other, and related, question is, how has our culture become so empathetic? What’s your feeling on either (or both)?