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Empathy and Affectional Ties

Empathy and Affectional Ties

(p.89) 5 Empathy and Affectional Ties
Being Me Being You
Samuel Fleischacker
University of Chicago Press

In addition to the challenge of culture, there is the danger that empathy, even of the Smithian variety, will entrench biases in favor of our affectional ties: our friends and close kin. Chapter 5 takes up this possibility. On Smith’s view, we are unlikely to become cosmopolitans, caring equally for everybody. He describes and defends, instead, our tendency to form “circles of sympathy.” It is argued that Smith is right to say that the local quality of our affections leads us to care most for those we can most effectively help, and that this point nicely explains many of our social bonds. It is also suggested that the partiality of empathy, in this respect, has some moral advantages. Biases can be used against themselves: we are better placed to nudge our friends and family away from their prejudices than to urge such moral transformation on strangers. Would-be cosmopolitans can thus use local affections to further the goals of cosmopolitanism—employing the trust we can call on, in groups to which we are loyal, to push those groups toward a greater concern for humanity as a whole.

Keywords:   affectional ties, bias, cosmopolitanism, circles of sympathy, xenophobia, sympathy

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