Against Empathy

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion is a 2016 book written by psychologist Paul Bloom. The book draws on the distinctions between empathy, compassion, and moral decision making. Bloom argues that empathy is not the solution to problems that divide people and is a poor guide for decision making. However, he is not completely against empathy; he believes that empathy can motivate kindness to make the world a better place.[1]

2016 book by psychologist Paul Bloom
Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion
Author Paul Bloom
Country United States
Language English
Subject Psychology, empathy
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Ecco Books
Publication date


Overall, the book received mixed reviews as some reviewers critiqued Bloom’s case “against empathy,” maintaining their belief that empathy is a useful tool.[2]

. . . Against Empathy . . .

Paul Bloom defines empathy the way that Adam Smith describes sympathy in Theory of Moral Sentiments. For Bloom, “[e]mpathy is the act of coming to experience the world as you think someone else does.”[3] [emphasis in original] He describes empathy as “a spotlight directing attention and aid to where it’s needed”.[4] It is an emotion that people mistake as a moral guide for their decision making, and Bloom suggests it can blind morality. He explains that empathy is limiting because it directs people’s attentions to individuals or individual events, which can misguide certain acts of kindness. Therefore, he suggests that we overcome the problems created by empathy through the use of “conscious, deliberative reasoning in everyday life”.[5]

In the book, Bloom develops his case for “rational compassion” by discussing acts of kindness and altruism. Bloom believes that people “can make decisions based on considerations of cost and benefits”.[6] He analyzes why and how people act altruistically and explains that oftentimes, empathy motivates people to act for self-serving reasons. Bloom also explores the neurological differences between feeling and understanding, which are central to demonstrating the limitations of empathy. He describes compassion the same way as Buddhist moral philosopher, Charles Goodman, defines Theravāda compassion in the book Consequences of Compassion: An Interpretation and Defense of Buddhist Ethics.[7][8][9] With this understanding, Bloom describes empathy as feeling what others feel whereas compassion is “simply caring for people, [and] wanting them to thrive”.[10][11]

. . . Against Empathy . . .

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. . . Against Empathy . . .