In Defense of Empathy and
John Gibbs and Edwin Rutsch
John Gibbs is a professor of developmental psychology at The Ohio State
University and the author of Moral Development and Reality: Beyond the
Theories of Kohlberg, Hoffman, and Haidt. John says, my interests pertain
to cross-cultural sociomoral development, parental socialization, empathy,
prosocial behavior, and antisocial behavior. I have, with students and
colleagues, developed assessment measures of moral judgment, moral
identity, social perspective-taking, self-serving cognitive distortions,
and social skills. Together with
he wrote an article, Hillary has a point: In defense of empathy and justice.
Clinton had a point when she recently urged:
"The most important thing each of us can do... is to try even harder to see
the world through our neighbors' eyes, to imagine what it is like to walk
in their shoes, to share their pain and their hopes and their dreams"....
we emphasize that empathy and justice are co-primary or mutual. If justice
serves empathy, the reverse is certainly also true ...
Morality is most objective and compelling when justice and empathy align.
That is, the moral prescription to act is strongest when victims are both
wronged and harmed.
John C. Gibbs is a professor of developmental psychology at The Ohio
State University and the author of Moral Development and Reality: Beyond
the Theories of Kohlberg, Hoffman, and Haidt, Third Edition.
Martin L. Hoffman is a professor emeritus of psychology at New York
University and the author of Empathy and Moral Development: Implications
for Caring and Justice.
"Yale psychologist Paul Bloom objected that we can’t actually do that
(at least not as well as we think we can), especially when our neighbor
is someone in a quite different situation or condition—say, a
stressed-out single parent, a traumatically scarred war veteran, or an
autistic child. Besides, declared Bloom, even if we could fully and
accurately feel and see from another’s perspective, empathy is often too
narrow and parochial to serve as a moral guide. Far less limited, Bloom
asserts, is reason: specifically, the impartial principles and
procedures of justice. We should “step back” from empathy and “apply an
objective and fair morality,” a “dispassionate analysis” of distressing
situations. Bloom has even declared that “empathy will have to yield to
reason if humanity is to survive.” "
John Gibbs writes an email to Edwin Rutsch. Says
"Again, I think Marty and I agree with much of what Paul Bloom says
about empathy ...... "
He says he and Marty see the problems of empathy, biases, over-arousal,
I wondered if you have any feedback on my dialog with Paul Bloom? I
address a lot of the criticisms I’m hearing about empathy. For me it was
an odd conversation since Paul could not seem to understand what I was
calling empathy. He acknowledged that it was highly successful, but was
not willing to acknowledged it as empathy. I tried for 2 years to do a
direct recorded interview with him but he refuses to talk with me. I
believe a direct dialog would support more understanding. See
As I say in my responses to Paul, empathy itself is not bias. Bias is
bias. If people are limiting their empathy and being biased, it is
usually out of fear, or conditioning, etc, it is not a problem with
empathy but with people often not knowing how to maintain their empathy
in the face of fear or perhaps emotional contagion. I shared my
mediation stories regarding this.
Also, over-arousal is not empathic because people can lose their
empathic connection when they become over aroused. They become self
centered and are not even aware of the other persons feeling. The
argument I’m hearing is that empathy is the cause of the lack of
empathy? The causal relationships seem quite skewed it seems to me.
Between empathy and over arousal are a lot of steps. Saying empathy
leads to over arousal to me is like saying that having a heart beat can
lead to over arousal. True, people who do not have a heartbeat, don’t
get over aroused. But there’s a lot of steps between having a heartbeat
and being over aroused. Blaming a heart beat for over arousal is like
blaming empathy for over arousal.
In fact, empathy is the healing agent for people who are over aroused
(like some the young ‘offenders’ you work with) I see it over and over
again, someone is angry, agitated, nervous, hostile, frustrated, in
pain, trauma, etc. and someone comes along and starts empathizing with
them, and they calm down. They get calmer, more connected to themselves
and eventually start connecting with others around them.
Yep.. I have it and read it, Empathy and Moral Development. I showed it
on the screen as we talked.
How do you mean thinking errors?
The approach I advocate is bringing people into an empathy circle. That
is creating an empathic environment and connection is the first step. I
would imagine that if people are coming from the self centered chronic
offenders position, their thinking and reasoning will start with that
self interest as the premise. So they first need to come into
connection, and then the thinking and reasoning comes from that premise
of empathy and connection.
There is a process developed by Dominic Barter called Restorative
Circles, see http://bit.ly/xA7Hh1
He developed it in the gang controlled slums of Brazil, where he does
community based mediation. His process is essentially the active
listening and empathy circle process, but with different layers of
listening and dialog. It has had great success.
Have you tried an empathy circle with the youth you work with? I’d be
curious how that worked?
What I am now doing is merging the human centered design http://j.mp/1etRAMq
framework with the empathy circles. I think this has a lot of
potential.. see. http://j.mp/1MigpZf