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Utilitarianism and the Limits of Empathy

Utilitarianism and the Limits of Empathy

(p.102) 6 Utilitarianism and the Limits of Empathy
Being Me Being You
Samuel Fleischacker
University of Chicago Press

The subject of bias remains relevant in chapter 6, which begins an extended response to the critiques of empathy launched recently by Jesse Prinz and Paul Bloom. Prinz and Bloom stress the partiality of our empathetic caring, pointing out in addition that it can lead us to desire harsh revenge on behalf of the people we care for, and can overwhelm our rational capacities in circumstances where cool calculation is essential to finding fair or effective solutions to a problem. It is argued in this chapter that empathetic emotions are no more biased towards our near and dear than are other moral emotions. It is also pointed out that Smith’s “impartial spectator” device can do a lot to correct for bias. The chapter ends by showing how Smith himself uses empathy, suitably constrained by the impartial spectator and rational calculation, to inform his public policy proposals in The Wealth of Nations.

Keywords:   Jesse Prinz, Paul Bloom, bias, rationality, impartial spectator, public policy, Wealth of Nations, empathy

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