A controversial call to arms, Against Empathy argues that the natural impulse to share the feelings of others can lead to immoral choices in both public policy and in our intimate relationships with friends and family.
Most people, including many policy makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers, have encouraged us to be more empathetic - to feel the pain and pleasure of others. Yale researcher and author Paul Bloom argues that this is a mistake. Far from leading us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it and draw upon a more distanced compassion.
Based on groundbreaking scientific findings, Against Empathy makes the case that some of the worst decisions that individuals and nations make - who to give money to, when to go to war, how to respond to climate change, and who to put in prison - are too often motivated by honest yet misplaced emotions. With clear and witty prose, Bloom demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the justice system; from culture and education to foreign policy and war. Without empathy, Bloom insists, our decisions would be clearer, fairer, and ultimately more moral.
Bound to be controversial, Against Empathy shows us that when it comes to major policy decisions and the choices we make in our everyday lives, limiting our empathetic emotions is often the most compassionate choice we can make.
©2016 Paul Bloom (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
Super skeptic, reality poet, mega geek, & science nerd extraordinaire.
You're being manipulated
The means by which good people are manipulated to do evil is not obvious to anyone. Other books that explore misleading emotions could be Mistakes Were Made (but not by me) by Tavris & Aronson, Strangers to Ourselves by Tim Wilson, You Are Not So Smart by McRaney, Influence by Cialdini, Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, and Haidt's Righteous Mind
The chapter on violent conflict had some chilling stuff. Hows do you get a morally good man to torture, degrade and execute another man in cold blood? Make the good man a liberating soldier, make the tortured a Nazi prison guard, then evoke empathy for the prisoners.
Tried to but I have to sleep sometime...
After reading this book I watched Captain America: Civil War, and the lens of this book gave me a very different experience of the movie. Everyone is empathizing with someone, that empathy motivates their actions, and everyone nearly dies as a result. How do you manipulate even a superhero? Empathy.
Narration is on point.
The content is meh. There are a few interesting points, but this feels like an essay that was expanded into a book. I stuck around until the end because Bloom's other works are /so/ good.
I appreciated the subtle nods at Black Mirror. I was overjoyed to finish a modern psychology book without the Marshmallow test being mentioned, but 5 minutes from the end it of course makes an appearance.
Bottom line: if you like Bloom (or Very Bad Wizards), buy it. If not, read another book by Bloom, and save this for last.
I very much enjoyed this book. Without the intention, this actually became a self help book for me. I have always believed myself to be an empath. I have found that this emotional pull has caused me a lot of unnecessary grief and unhealthy levels of stress. I never knew how I could find a way out of this self destructive and reactionary behavior. This book laid out facts about empathy that I had not known before. I feel more equipt to control my empathetic impulses and instead choose to act within the bounds of reason with a measured rational response. Reading this book spared me many circular frustrating talks with my therapist. I believe that I can see my empathic nature more clearly now. It was informative and the facts about empathy were based in scientific research. I will go forward with a new mindset on this subject and I am grateful for it.
The concept is interesting and well cashed out with experimental results. Bloom provides good reasons to think empathy isn’t always useful (and is usually not useful).
Bloom is not a philosopher and his philosophical arguments are weak in many spots.
Paul Bloom's attention to detail in constructing his argument is careful and persuasive. For review, listen to his podcast with Sam Harris.
This book covered some interesting topics that most authors do not touch, but after digging deeper into the text you start to realize that the basic ideas here seem intuitive to an unnerving degree. Most of this premise can be summarized as follows: you should care about others up to the point of feeling their pain. If this idea interests you, you will find the parts of this book you haven't already considered to be quite engaging.
I found this book to be somewhat boring, but that's only because he states a lot of arguments that I already believe to be true. I was introduced to Bloom through Sam Harris, who also agrees with his thesis on morality. It was through the Waking Up podcast that I was made aware of this book. The narrator is excellent.
Emapthy and sympathy are subjects that have come up with my psychiatrist. A few weeks ago he mentioned that I might find this book interesting. He was right.
I don't agree with all the arguments, and there were times I found the writing style to be a bit plodding, but overall I think this is a good read and worth discussing.
In the end, I think the larger point is that rational compassion is more effective than compassion, and that compassion is more effective than empathy.
I always love when Paul visits one of the several podcasts I listen to. He's insightful, thought provoking, and down to earth.
The performer was fine (and would have been great in a different context) but I would have preferred listening to Paul - it was a little odd listening to a female speaker with British(?) accent when I'm so used to hearing his (very American) voice on podcasts and videos.
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