Dan Zahavi / Empathy and morality

Since 2011, the Center for Subjectivity Research has been involved in a large-scale project on the empathy funded by the VELUX FONDEN. A central objective had been to investigate what empathy is and what role it plays in interpersonal relations.

In recent years, an increasing number of disciplines have shown interest in empathy, be it psychiatry, affective neuroscience, developmental psychology, anthropology, or philosophy. The increasing amount of work being done in the field hasn’t resulted in any converging consensus about what exactly empathy amounts to. In fact, if there is any agreement, it is about disagreeing about the definition of empathy.

To complicate matters, the massive interest in empathy has recently resulted in something like a backlash. Whereas a few have argued that only an increase in empathic skills can solve the global challenges, many have thought that empathy is intrinsically prosocial and morally valuable. But this positive appraisal of empathy is now being met with the counter-claim that empathy is so biased and parochial that anybody who wishes to promote social justice should avoid relying on empathy. As Paul Bloom has insisted, empathy should be replaced by rational compassion.

In the actual debate, it is consequently an open question whether empathy is something that should be cultivated, or whether it rather is something that should be put aside.

To address these questions, CFS has organized the conference Empathy, Recognition, Morality, which will take place in Copenhagen September 21-22, 2017. The conference will bring together prominent philosophers, anthropologists, and neuroscientists and debate the relation between empathy and morality.

Participation is free, but please register in advance on this website: http://cfs.ku.dk/calendar-main/2017/empathy-recognition-morality/

Leave a Comment