The Moral Considerability of Animals To say that a being deserves moral consideration is to say that there is a moral claim that this being can make on those who can recognize such claims. A morally considerable being is a being who can be wronged.
My claim is actually the opposite: To empathize with someone is to put yourself in her shoes, to feel her pain. Some researchers also use the term to encompass the more coldblooded process of assessing what other people are thinking, their motivations, their plans, what they believe.
I will follow this convention here, but we should keep in mind that the two are distinct—they emerge from different brain processes; you can have a lot of one and a little of the other—and that most of the discussion of the moral implications of empathy focuses on its emotional side.
Some degree of emotional empathy is bred in the bone. This is not uniquely human: Empathy can occur automatically, even involuntarily. When you think like this—when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers—it becomes harder not to act, harder not to help.
Obama is right about this last part; there is considerable support for what the psychologist C. In general, empathy serves to dissolve the boundaries between one person and another; it is a force against selfishness and indifference.
It is easy to see, then, how empathy can be a moral good, and it has many champions. Most people see the benefits of empathy as too obvious to require justification. This is a mistake. Most people see the benefits of empathy as akin to the evils of racism: I think this is a mistake.
I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background.
And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data.
If I look at the one, I will.
In light of these features, our public decisions will be fairer and more moral once we put empathy aside. Our policies are improved when we appreciate that a hundred deaths are worse than one, even if we know the name of the one, and when we acknowledge that the life of someone in a faraway country is worth as much as the life a neighbor, even if our emotions pull us in a different direction.
Without empathy, we are better able to grasp the importance of vaccinating children and responding to climate change. These acts impose costs on real people in the here and now for the sake of abstract future benefits, so tackling them may require overriding empathetic responses that favor the comfort and well being of individuals today.
We can rethink humanitarian aid and the criminal justice system, choosing to draw on a reasoned, even counter-empathetic, analysis of moral obligation and likely consequences.
But even if you accept this argument, there is a lot more to life than public policy. Consider our everyday interactions with our parents and children, with our partners and friends.
Consider also certain special relationships, such as that between doctor and patient or therapist and client.
Empathy might not scale up to the policy level, but it seems an unalloyed good when it comes to these intimate relationships—the more the better. I used to believe this, but I am no longer sure.Racism. Every individual on earth has his completing causes; consequently an individual with perfect causes becomes perfect, and another with imperfect causes remains imperfect, as the negro who is able to receive nothing more than the human shape and speech in its least developed form.
An entity has moral status if and only if it or its interests morally matter to some degree for the entity’s own sake.
For instance, an animal may be said to have moral status if its suffering is at least somewhat morally bad, on account of this animal itself and regardless of the consequences for other beings. Moral standing is determined by the physical or mental capacities of self-awareness or rationality.
However, controversy arises when determining when one actually has full moral standing. Abortion is a controversial topic that directly relates to determining the full moral standing of an embryo or fetus. (and accept the fact that, yes, the right is happier than the left).
The title of this essay should disturb you. We have been brought up to believe that tolerating other people is one of the things you do if you’re a nice person — whether we learned this in.
1. The Moral Considerability of Animals. To say that a being deserves moral consideration is to say that there is a moral claim that this being can make on those who can recognize such claims.