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Empathy and the Limits of Utilitarianism (I)

Empathy and the Limits of Utilitarianism (I)

Chapter:
(p.116) 7 Empathy and the Limits of Utilitarianism (I)
Source:
Being Me Being You
Author(s):
Samuel Fleischacker
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226661926.003.0007

Chapter 7 takes up Bloom’s and Prinz’s praise for cool rationality over a reliance on empathy, something they share with other contemporary theorists of the moral emotions. At bottom, this praise reflects a view on which people do best to follow a utilitarian calculus in their individual moral actions and in public policy—to seek simply to minimize harms and maximize happiness. This chapter stresses the difficulties in spelling out what counts as a “harm” without relying on empathy. Examples are given, including an extended one from E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, in order to show that the specificity of harms, and the degree to which they are shaped by cultural and historical factors, comes out only when they are grasped via empathy.

Keywords:   Jesse Prinz, Paul Bloom, E.M. Forster, harm, utilitarianism, public policy, empathy

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