Putanumonit - Discarding empathy to save the world

So, if the emotional empathy should be discarded, why should I help all those strangers? The only answer that the link suggests is "social propriety".

But social propriety is a fickle thing. Sometimes it asks you to forgive the debts of the destitute, and sometimes it asks you to burn the witches. Without empathy, why shouldn't you cheer at the flames licking the evil witch's body? Without empathy, if there are some kulaks or Juden standing in the way of the perfect society, why shouldn't you kill them in the most efficient manner at your disposal?

I completely agree: asking people to discard moral emotions is rather like asking rational agents to discard top goals!

Wikipedia says that "body-counts of modern witch-hunts by far exceed those of early-modern witch-hunting", referencing: Behringer, Wolfgang 2004: Witches and Witch-hunts. A global History. Cambridge: Polity Press.

My point being that our emotional empathy is already out of tune with social propriety, if you consider the social norms typical around the world and not just among rich, Western populations. Let alone the norms common in the West for most of its existence, and so perhaps again in the future.

5gjm3yThe article distinguishes between "emotional empathy" ("feeling with") and "cognitive empathy" ("feeling for"), and it's only the former that it (cautiously) argues against. It argues that emotional empathy pushes you to follow the crowd urging you to burn the witches, not merely out of social propriety but through coming to share their fear and anger. So I think the author's answer to "why help all those strangers?" (meaning, I take it, something like "with what motive?") is "cognitive empathy". I'm not altogether convinced by either the terminology or the psychology, but at any rate the claim here is not that we should be discarding every form of empathy and turning ourselves into sociopaths.
1Jacobian3yWith empathy, it turns out that Germans were much more likely to empathize with other Germans than with Juden. With empathy, everyone was cheering as the witches burned. Moral progress is the progress of knowledge. Slavers in the antebellum South convinced themselves that they were doing a favor to the slaves [http://www.econtalk.org/archives/2016/08/munger_on_slave.html] because the latter couldn't survive by themselves in an advanced economy. A hundred years later, they changed their minds more than they changed their hearts. We (some of us) have learned that coercion is almost always bad, making world saving plans that involve a lot of coercion tend to fail, and preserving people's freedom (blacks, witches and Jews included) increases everyone's welfare. Is empathy part of one's motivation to even pursue moral progress? Perhaps, but if so it's a very deep part of us that will never be discarded. All I'm saying is that whenever you have finally decided that you should make the world a better place, at that point emotional empathy is a bias that you should discard when choosing a course of action.

Putanumonit - Discarding empathy to save the world

by Jacobian 1 min read6th Oct 201638 comments

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