Elliot Goodine: Empathy and Moral Judgement: On Prinz and Hume

Prinz argues empathy plays no important role in morality. Goodine plans to lay out Prinz’s argument and mount a defence for Hume: Empathy (df): successfully recognize affective state of another person, then feel same state yourself. Typically described as vicarious or contagious. Hume calls it “sympathy:” “empathy does not appear until 20th c.

Hume: empathy + public interest = moral judgement.

Prinz: empathy not necessary; often a hindrance. Example: Tom’s bike is stolen, but Tom does need to emphasis with himself (impossible anyway) to make a moral judgement.

Empathy biases judgement: Jurors harsher when victim displays emotion; Caucasian more empathetic to Caucasians (over Asians). Hume’s metaphilosophical stance is that we can discover causal principles of human behaviour. He says we often make moral judgements in cases which have no connection to ourselves. We catch sentiments from others and perhaps pressure others to feel as we do.

The claim that A causes B does not imply that all As causes all Bs.
So Hume is not committed to empathy as a precondition nor to the view that empathy is always a force for good. But Hume does show how empathy is central to moral judgement.

Comments: Prinz is an interdisciplinarian. CAD triad hypothesis: three species-typical negative emotions (contempt, anger, disgust) are the basis of all our moral reactions. And empathy is not needed. Moreover, as a matter of empirical fact, empathy distorts our moral judgement.


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