Monday, August 7, 2023

Book Report: Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion

Against Empathy: The Case of Rational Compassion

General Overview

The novel "Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion," is about a fundamental need to understand what other people have experienced can end in harsh and irrational behaviors at home and in public. Paul Bloom demonstrates how empathy affects our judgment in all aspects of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the authorized system; from health care and education to parenting and marriage. Bloom insists that if empathy is absent, we would make decisions that are more logical, fair, and ultimately ethical. In society, empathy is one of the primary causes of unfairness and immorality in the community, in Against Empathy. Empathy is an unpredictable and illogical emotion that occupies our prejudices instead of assisting humanity to enhance our understanding of others. Many people were against this author upon hearing the title of the book. The purpose of this book is despite empathy's possibility of bias, violence, and other undesirable outcomes, empathy may also have positive results. Paul Bloom is against empathy, and he wants others to be against it as well. "The argument against empathy isn't that we should be selfish and immoral. It's the opposite. It's that if we want to be good and caring people and make the world a better place, then we are better off without empathy." Paul is particularly interested in the notion of empathy as the act of experiencing what you consider other individuals are going through or experiencing. 

Several studies have shown that people possess an innate capacity to connect with others who are similar to us, understand what we say, and give us an impression of protection. Therefore Paul Bloom stated that empathy is the most "biased and parochial." There are two interludes between each of the six chapters in Against Empathy. The first provides an overview of the attack on empathy. The second and third chapters address the characteristics that create empathy useless as a guide to morality while addressing the psychological aspects and neuroscience of the heart. This is followed by an additional section that discusses the connection between empathy and politics, mainly how liberals are seen as having more compassion than conservatives. The fourth chapter addresses intimacy and empathy. The fifth chapter is about evil and addresses the notion that people become worse off when they lack empathy with doubt. The final part of the book makes a step back and supports rational thought, arguing that human beings can manage the world through sound decisions. 

Favorite Part

Among the other six chapters, chapter one, Other People's Shoes, appeared to be my favorite part of the book. The main reason that the first chapter of this book is my favorite is that the author provides enough evidence of examples of why it's essential to have morality and not empathy. Many people tend to misunderstand this author when others hear him saying he is against empathy. As Bloom stated, "I want to make the world a better place. I've just come to believe that relying on empathy is the wrong way to do it (pp.16)." The author Paul Bloom mentioned that he is not against morality, compassion, kindness, love, being a good neighbor, being a mensch, and doing what is right. Empathy is the act of coming to experience the world as you think someone else does." Empathy is to place oneself in other people's situations and be on the same level of emotion as the other person. Paul described that if one's suffering makes the other person suffer or feel what one feels, that's the definition of empathy. However, if one can't handle the pain of others but is not in pain, that's what social cognition, social intelligence, mind reading, theory of mind, or mentalizing, according to Paul Bloom. 

There are many examples that Paul Bloom presented in the chapter to clear out all the negativity regards going against empathy. Paul began this chapter by talking about The Nazi Doctors by Rebert Jay Lifton. The author of the book described that the physicians were intelligent yet applied their knowledge to commit horrific acts. In this book of The Nazi Doctors, there wasn't a place for empathy because these physicians talk themselves into doing a terrible thing to do. If they genuinely cared for prisoners in concentration camps, then they wouldn't have such thoughts in the first place. Because these physicians don't have morality, therefore, these problems showed. I believe everyone has a little or more empathy for others, but it's not often used properly. I agree with Paul Bloom. 

In addition, Bloom mentioned the writer Emily Bazelon who stated that " The scariest aspect of bullying is the total lack of empathy"-she diagnoses both the bullies and those who refuse to support the victims and the bullies themselves.  The solution, Emily suggests, is " to remember that almost everyone has the capacity for empathy and decency-and to tend than seed as best as we possibly can (pg. 20)." I agree with Emily Bazelon that a total lack of empathy is a particularly frightening element of harassment. I believe some students were bullied once in their school/college life. Somehow school/college life is incomplete if there's no bullying associated. A number of cases regarding the death of defenseless black individuals at the hands of law enforcement occurred in the fall of 2014, and many individuals stated their anger about Americans' and especially police officers' lack of empathy for racial minorities (pg.19). In this case, I feel like law enforcement lack both empathy and morality. Some are just full of emptiness. These people take an oath not to agree to be truthful or faithful but to commit crimes. Some police officers do what they feel like doing, and it means shooting whoever goes out of their will. Some of these people don't even have the minimum concern for others' lives and forget about saving them. I agree with Paul that people don't have empathy but morality because not everyone does good, even if they have empathy. 

Moreover, Paul described how empathy can battle with other moral considerations. In an experiment by C. Daniel Batson and his colleagues, volunteers received notice that Sheri Summers, a ten-year-old girl with a fatal disease, was lined up for treatment to reduce her pain. She was able to go in front of the line. She had to be patient as kids in more need got there before her when they were told what to do. They frequently decided to move her up, placing her in front of more worthy kids. Empathy overcame fairness leading to an option that the majority would think was immoral. Another example of empathy Paul proved to his audience is about Zell Kravinsky. He gave approximately forty five-million-dollar to charity, yet he thought he wasn't doing enough. Therefore, he "arranged to donate one of his kidneys to a stranger, over the strenuous objections of his family." It's fascinating to see him as super-empathy because the world would. Others should be motivated and inspired by their moral guts but not by some empathic feelings because one doesn't feel empathy for just anyone or everyone. Zell Kravinsky is one of the perfect examples of this book, Against Empathy, and others will learn that there are ways to do more to help people than to be gripped by some empathic emotions. 

Furthermore,  Empathy can be a choice, which Barack Obama described before he became president (pg. 18). He saw the importance "to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from us-the hungry child, the steelworker who's been laid off, the family who lost the entire life they built together when the storm came to town. 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 (pg. 18)." The following line is a fantastic example of how empathy can be beneficial. Empathy enhances our concern for other people and enhances our willingness to work to make their lives better. People frequently assume that empathy is always good. Therefore, Bloom tends to get an adverse reaction when people hear him say, "I'm against it." One can cry seeing another cry, but it doesn't mean that person genuinely feels what the other person feels. Empathy can't go far if one lacks morality. It is essential to see the world of others through the eyes of those who need anything. By acts of will, it can be focused and directed. Empathy is not a reaction only. It can be well-nourished, established, and expanded. Empathy improves our personal desires by including other individuals by guiding the way we ought to conduct ourselves. Other People's Shoes is my favorite chapter because Paul Bloom presented his logic beautifully. One will automatically agree with him without searching for more evidence of why the book is called Against Empathy.


This book was my first choice among the rest. I was curious to know why Paul Bloom is against empathy and what he has to say about it. Therefore, I chose this book to find more information in detail. Furthermore, I want to extend my report with a current issue of empathy. People believe that emotional empathy is the core of a good human being. However, I don't think it's true. I couldn't agree more with Paul that “empathy is biased”. People would've helped one another in need if we weren't biased. I want to share a current issue of an Asian family regarding empathy. In a family of seven, three sons, two daughters, and parents. When the first two sons get married, the family starts to fall apart. In Asian families, it was expected the daughters-in-law help the in-laws. However, the mother had to do all the work. The daughters-in-law always stay in the room and come out to eat only. They would watch TV and talk on the phone 24/7 with their families, but these women didn't bother to help their mother-in-law since they came to the house as married women. And her sons wouldn't say anything to their wives. 
The mother is aging as days go on, and she can't do all the work alone. These women think that if they help their mothers-in-law, then that would make them servants. Although these women wouldn't do anything in the house, the mother-in-law wouldn't ever complain. One of them said, “She's not my real mom."  When it comes to evaluating other people's beliefs, feelings, and abilities, people are more critical. These women didn't have a connection with the mother-in-law by heart, so they didn't care about the mother a bit. And these women didn't feel anything for the mother-in-law, so they didn't bother to help. I couldn't more agree with Paul Bloom that we only show empathy for those we know. One doesn't show empathy for just anyone. Therefore, it makes sense why these women don’t feel anything for the mother-in-law. However, this world is cruel for good people like the mother. There's no place and justice for the ones who deserve it. There's no place for a mom like her because they are too soft-hearted. This is one of the real-life issues of empathy. Empathy may seem great, but it's not so great for moral guidance. It's no secret that we don't feel empathy for just anyone. And this is the kind of empathy that Paul Bloom is against, and so am I. People naturally put themselves in the shoes of who they know, who they understand, and not the other way around.

Here's a YouTube video of the author, Paul Bloom talking about why he titled it "Against Empathy."

1 comment:

  1. I love your summary, this not the book I chose to read but your summary is very insightful. I am actually very interested in reading this book and learning more about it.