Empathy and moral judgment

Authored by: Antti Kauppinen

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy

Print publication date:  February  2017
Online publication date:  February  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138855441
eBook ISBN: 9781315282015
Adobe ISBN: 9781315282008


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At the beginning of September 2015, shocking images of a drowned Syrian refugee boy on a Turkish beach aroused widespread criticism of European policy. Although the crisis had started much earlier, many people apparently only then formed the belief that it is the moral obligation of rich Europe to take care of people in desperate need, and demanded that politicians act. Why? Speaking for myself, as a parent of a boy of similar age, I felt sadness and anger at those responsible for forcing parents to take such risks – I couldn’t help thinking that this could have happened to my own son, had I not had the luck to live in a stable and peaceful country. The striking picture resonated emotionally with me, as it did with many others who had hitherto paid little attention to the refugee problem, in spite of knowing that large numbers of people were risking their lives to escape war. The best explanation for this reaction is likely to be the capacity and tendency of human beings to take on the feelings they attribute to other people, when they come to be vividly aware of the situation of individual others they can identify with. Evidently, such empathic feelings sometimes causally influence the moral judgments that people make.

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