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Empathy and Demonization

Empathy and Demonization

Chapter:
(p.149) 9 Empathy and Demonization
Source:
Being Me Being You
Author(s):
Samuel Fleischacker
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226661926.003.0009

If Smithian empathy is central to our humanity, then closing off empathy to others, and seeing them as closed to empathy, is a way of dehumanizing them. That is precisely what enabled people to regard Jews as diabolical, in former years, and what enables them to see many of their political enemies that way today. Demonization is very common in the modern world but is rarely theorized. A theoretical account of demonization is proposed here that weaves themes from Immanuel Kant’s Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason together with Smith’s empathetic/perspectival conception of humanity. It becomes clear that we demonize people when we give up on the effort to empathize with them—and that the temptation to do that is an ever-present threat to human solidarity. Anti-demonization requires us to seek an empathetic understanding of everyone: to attempt to attribute their motivations, as much as possible, to tendencies we can also see in ourselves.

Keywords:   demonization, demons, Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, cosmopolitanism, humanity, Jews, Muslims, empathy

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