Lori Gruen is Professor of Philosophy, Feminist,
Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan
University where she also coordinates Wesleyan Animal Studies. Her work
lies at the intersection of ethical theory and practice, with a particular
focus on issues that impact those often overlooked in traditional ethical
investigations, e.g. women, people of color, non-human animals. She has
published extensively on topics in animal ethics, ecofeminism, and
practical ethics more broadly. Lori is author of,
An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with Animals.
"Empathy is also something we are taught to "get over"
out of. We learn to quash our caring reactions for
our busy lives and immediate preoccupations provide
From the book
description, "In Entangled Empathy, scholar and activist Lori Gruen argues
that rather than focusing on animal "rights," we ought to work to make our
relationships with animals right by empathetically responding to their
needs, interests, desires, vulnerabilities, hopes, and unique
perspectives. Pointing out that we are already entangled in complex and
life-altering relationships with other animals, Gruen guides readers
through a new way of thinking about - and practicing - animal ethics."
With David Hume looking over his their shoulders,
Edwin Rutsch facilitates a new way for philosophers to dialog
with each other about their views. Instead of a competitive debate, they
try to empathize with each others feelings,
points of view and understandings. Edwin
Philosophers Empathy Circle
who is 'against empathy' and Lori Gruen
who is 'for empathy'.
Check out this fascinating process and discussion. How will it end?
"empathy is prone to biases that render it potentially
I argue that, instead of empathy, moral judgments involve emotions
such as anger, disgust, guilt, and admiration. These, not empathy,
provide the sentimental foundation for morality."
Entangled Empathy, scholar and activist Lori Gruen argues that rather than
focusing on animal “rights,” we ought to work to make our relationships
with animals right by empathetically responding to their needs, interests,
desires, vulnerabilities, hopes, and unique perspectives. Pointing out
that we are already entangled in complex and life-altering relationships
with other animals, Gruen guides readers through a new way of thinking
about—and practicing—animal ethics.
Gruen describes entangled empathy as a type of caring perception focused
on attending to another’s experience of well-being. It is an experiential
process involving a blend of emotion and cognition in which we recognize
we are in relationships with others and are called upon to be responsive
and responsible in these relationships by attending to another. When we
engage in entangled empathy we are transformed and in that transformation
we can imagine less violent, more meaningful ways of being together."
and Empathy Beyond the Human
"Can empathy play a role in the pursuit of justice,
and do either justice or empathy help in thinking about ethics beyond
Wesleyan philosopher Lori Gruen will explore
these two questions in her March 10th lecture titled “Justice and
Empathy Beyond the Human” as this year’s Robert D. Clark Lecturer in the
The lecture will take place at 7:30 p.m. in
156 Straub Hall.In her talk,Gruen
will argue that empathy is central to justice, and that it should play a
central role in our ethical thinking and in our dealings with all sorts
of different others, including other animals."
In pages 32 to 34, of Entangled Empathy, Lori Gruen compares
an ethics of justice (traditional
and an ethics of empathy and care. I find this to be one of the
most important parts of the book.
"The division between justice and care, to a large extent,
paralleled the different sorts of responses to ethical issues that
tracked gender socialization, where girls, even in early play
experiences, are often steered toward more caring and collaborative
roles and boys toward more hierarchal and rule-based roles. Girls often
respond to ethical questions by asking further questions about
social relationships, whereas boys often responded by invoking social
standards or rules. An ethics of care sometimes was associated with
"feminine" characteristics and an ethics of justice "masculine" ones."
Entangled Empathy, Page 32.
1. Abstraction vs. Context
"..traditional ethical theories claims are not designed to fit the
specifics of each individual situation. The details and particularities
of the situation must be abstracted away so that what remains is the
rule or principle. The traditional approach claims that when one is able
to reason impartially from abstract principles one has achieved the
highest level of moral development.
In contrast, an ethics of care finds the details that make up a
situation to be indispensible to an adequate resolution of any moral
problem. It makes being reflective about the context a crucial part of
moral experiences. It makes being reflective about the context a crucial
part of moral experiences."
2. Individualism vs.
"Traditional theories focus on a conception of rational "man" without
even the most basic and necessary relationships among people. The nature
of morality springs from the universal capacity of individuals to
reason, rather than from the connections individuals have with one
another. Care theorists view people as embedded in and emerging from
3. Impartiality vs. Connection
"Impartial reasoning is the highest form of ethical deliberation in
traditional approaches. For a decision to be just and unbiased, it must
be impartial, and detached from personal and emotional responses to a
An ethics of care rejects this kind of impartiality that
requires moral decision-makers to detach themselves from the context in
which they are making decisions, including who they are, the nature of
their relationships with others in the situation, and their own
involvement in that situation...."
4. Conflict vs.
"Most traditional theories focus on situations of conflict and
choice. An ethics of care has to address situations of conflict of
course, but it is also concerned with how people come to see moral
problems in the first place and tires to explore the moral imagination,
not only as a way to reframe problems but as a means to move toward
She goes on to say we need a theory that is
not justice vs. empathy but that bridges the two approaches.
much of the contemporary animal liberation movement continues to be
guided by traditional ethical theories with their flaws". Lori Gruen, Entangled
"Moral attention in response to
distress or tragedy is often referred to as compassion, and that is
part of the reason I think entangled empathy is preferable for helping
us think through those complex relations that involve more than
suffering. Lori Gruen, Entangled
primary difference between other forms of empathy and what has been
called "cognitive empathy" is that in the later the empathizer is not
mirroring or projecting onto the emotions of the one being empathized
with, but is engaged in a reflective act of imagination that puts her
into the objects situation and/or frame of mind, and allows her to
take the perspective of the the other." Lori Gruen, Entangled
also something we are taught to "get over" or grow out of. We learn to
quash our caring reactions for others, and our busy lives and
preoccupations provide excuses for not developing empathy." Lori Gruen, Entangled
"Yet empathy is a word I have always distrusted. Deep and enigmatic, at
best it means being present to or with another being; at worst it calls
forth a moral surround as exclusive as it is well intentioned. Along
with sympathy, and often confused with it, empathy summons an intensely
humanized world, where our emotional life—how much we feel for or
with—matters more than the conditions that cause suffering and sustain
Examples are all around us. To consider but one, we all know the sad
excesses of sentiment that followed the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Money
flowed to the coffers of international aid organizations and NGOs, but
it never reached the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who continued to
live as displaced persons in camps. Inhumanity can easily be moderated,
legitimized, and even reproduced by the humanitarian concern that is
analogous to it."
Entangled Empathy: How to Improve
Human-Animal Relationships. by
"A new book by Wesleyan University philosopher Lori Gruen called
Entangled Empathy: An Alternative Ethic for Our Relationships with
Animals is a wonderful addition to a growing literature in the
transdisciplinary field called anthrozoology, the study of human-animal
relationships. An interview I did with Professor Gruen lays out the
basic foundation for her ideas about entangled empathy, a new and
practical ethic for improving our relationships with nonhuman animals
(animals) and also other humans. When I asked her to answer a few
questions, in true form and to living up to her own deep connections
with other animals, Professor Gruen wrote back to me, "OK at the vet
with one of my rescued rats, will do this as soon as I get home!""
"Ethical arguments for considering the claims of the more-than-human
world have tended to parallel arguments that extend ethical
consideration outward from those who occupy the moral center. Expanding
the circle is one way scholars and activists have tried to combat what
is alternatively termed “speciesism,” “humanormativity,” or “human
exceptionalism” – terms that have been used to identify a perceived
ethical problem with human attitudes toward and treatment of other
animals. Though there are advantages to this argumentative strategy,
this talk suggests an alternative in which we come to see ourselves, not
just as individual animal beings, but also as inextricably entangled
with other animals."
"Attending to Nature: Empathetic Engagement with the More than Human
Ethics and the Environment. Indiana University Press.
Retrieved 29 April 2012.
"Val Plumwood urged us to attend to earth others in non-dualistic ways.
In this essay I suggest that such attention be promoted through what I
call "engaged empathy." Engaged empathy involves critical attention to
the conditions that undermine the well being or flourishing of those to
whom empathy is directed and this requires moral agents to attend to
things they might not have otherwise. Engaged empathy requires gaining
wisdom and perspective and, importantly, motivates the empathizer to act
“Empathy and Other Apes” co-authored with Kristin
Andrews in H. Maimbom (ed.)
Empathy and Morality (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
Lori Gruen --
"Entangled Empathy as Ecofeminist Praxis" - Neither Man Nor Beast
"Entangled Empathy as Ecofeminist Praxis will be
discussing how the feminist care tradition in animal ethics has a long,
and often overlooked, history. In this talk, the history will be briefly
laid out and distinctions between care, compassion, and empathy will be
discussed. Lori will present the notion of "entangled empathy" and
disentangle it from some material feminist conceptions that extend care
to all life. It will then turn to practical ways of understanding
entangled empathy: how it works, how it might go wrong, and how it can
Why empathy over rights?
need to move away from rights
another to look at the relationships
an ethics of justice
an ethics of care
focusing on empathy is a more progressive way of
focusing on the relationships
Rights based versus Care based relationship
idea was men interested in justice
woman interested in care
Difference is really about
justice is focus on individualism
care is focus on relationally
In an empathetic care based way of thinking we're
paying attention to context
the problems based on exploitation based on liberal
basis of rights
Entangled empathy - empathic engagement
Make the difference between sympathy and empathy
sympathy - feel sorry for them. you don't have a full
understanding of the person.
we can maintain our differences
empathy - see how world looks to the other
the skill that we understand the other.
helps bridge differences in privilege, gender
differences, animal embodiment
8:30 - Entanglement- we are already in relationship
have self other distinction -
need to develop skills to do this
have a motivating feature. - will be moved to act
when we understand
not a pre curser to praise or blame.
see what the other is going through from their
could use empathy - feeling with the other to take
advantage of them
entangled empathy - improving the wellbeing of all
take the role of a polar bear, seal, etc.
Acknowledge Marti Heal - a founder in this
look at the larger structures
1. empathy could be projection
it is a process
2. empathetic torturer
condition is improving the wellbeing of all
3. self/other dualism
blending the self with other.
recognition of self
we get too involved in the context of the
Over empathizing - don't recognize the full
experience of the other.
seen in social justice movements.
bias toward one form of oppression
Empathetic overload - do self care.
solution: practice/better perception
Developing entangled empathetic skill
courage - face it
Q and E
Science - avoiding emotions and maintaining
yes and no
how to make science more compassionate? a big
"Lori Gruen talks about her work in entangled empathy at the CUNY
Graduate Center. She is a professor of Philosophy, Feminist, Gender,
and Sexuality Studies, and Environmental Studies at Wesleyan
I just listened to your interview with Lori Gruen and you are right: She
and her work are truly remarkable. And your conversation with her was
very stimulating for me. Below are the unedited notes I made while
watching your video dialogue with her. Some of the notes are quotes or
summaries of things she (or you) said. Some of them are thoughts that
were triggered by what I heard, including critiques, implications,
associations, impacts on my own thinking or plans, etc. - all mixed in
I find profound her sense of empathy being a natural and responsible
recognition of and engagement with the quality of relationships we
already have (which are virtually infinite), including both
understanding them and our role in them and an effort to enhance the
wellbeing and flourishing of all involved ("creating worlds that work
for all"!). It so deeply overlaps my sense of co-intelligence that I'm
now thinking of a whole new level in my re-framing of co-intelligence,
the project I wrote to you that I want to immerse myself in over the
next few months. Well, her work (and your interview with her) have now
impacted that project. And increased my sense that I need to follow the
other links you sent me, as well.
One of Lori's important points that could particularly clarify your work
(in my view) is her defining empathy in terms of relationships that
nurture mutual (or communal) wellbeing or flourishing, rather than in
terms of "hearing" and "being heard" (which are best viewed as important
means to that end, i.e., relationships of mutual flourishment - if I may
coin a needed term!). Your (and NVC's) framing that point in terms of
"meeting everyone's needs" is useful but perhaps not as vibrantly alive
and compelling as wanting everyone involved to flourish. For example,
what if empathy with the police or City Council in Berkeley (with whom
you are struggling) involved an authentic effort to learn what they
think would enable them to flourish in their roles and personal
A few of the places I would want to stretch Lori's frame (at least as
far as she expressed it in her interview; her books may deal with some
of these issues):
1. What constitutes "harm" and "flourishing" is not always
clear in practice and is often dependent on (evolving) perspectives -
especially in diverse communities (which present diverse perspectives
on harm) and complex systems and scales of existence (that distance us
from perceiving the effects of our actions). Furthermore, some forms
of "harm" are intrinsic to life (e.g., eating, disease, death, and
accidents - and evolution thrives on catastrophes).
there is room and need for extending our theories of empathy to
address this (often decisive and divisive) nuance (especially in
practice and policy) and to have productive dialogue (and humility!)
at the unclear edges of this challenge.
One approach I thought of during my listening: The
ideal might perhaps be to progressively minimize intentional,
unnecessary, and oblivious harms - or optimizing the living balance
between harms to the whole and its parts on the one hand, and the
flourishing of the whole and its parts on the other hand - where
"harm" and "flourishing" are continually being considered, redefined,
and evolved by an evolving community or culture. To complicate matters
further, we have factors such as "you are responsible for your own
experience of suffering" (as in no one "causes" others to suffer, even
if they cause them hardship or damage), and "we can learn and grow
from the bad things that we do or that happen to us".
So what is the role of responsibility on the part of
the "victim" of harm, and what is the role of the "victim's" and
"perpetrators" learning and growth in harmful circumstances, and to
what extent is empathy a tool for enhancing them or setting them aside
in favor of "meeting everyone's needs"? (I suspect conservatives would
like my last question!)
2. There is also more nuance available and needed in applying all this
to social change movements. The two of you went quite far in your
dialogue about that aspect, but also seemed to occasionally slip back
into older ways of thinking about activism, empathy, and rights. There
is SO much to explore there!
Expanding on your actions in Berkeley, Edwin, and your
struggle to practice empathy with authorities rather than demanding
rights (to put up your "empathy tent" in a public space) I wrote in my
notes that, like Gandhi, "one can powerfully demand the right to have
an empathic peer dialogue (in search of truth, life, flourishing by
all parties) and, if well organized and PR'd (evoking the empathy of
observing bystanders and receptive authorities), one can put immense
(moral and material) pressure on the other party to engage in such
In the meantime, many activists around you will be
expressing their outrage in a wide variety of ways (as was true during
King's and Gandhi's heydays), but within your ranks, you are doing
something else, and part of the effectiveness of that empathic,
nonviolent 'something else' is the disruptive energy that surrounds it
as a threat to the status quo order which also pressures powerholders
and observers to side with the empathic nonviolent folks as a better
I suspect that there are new ways to practice this
kind of nonviolence which were not available to King and Gandhi, such
as modeling empathic engagement in mass media or social media or
Youtube, etc., to clarify what you are asking for and how you hope to
ask for it, and what kind of society you envision as a result." This
of course is only one thread of the empathic activism inquiry.
3. I hear from her a bit too much focus on the individual (person,
animal, etc.) - or classes of individuals - as both the source and
recipient of harms, or as what manifests "wellbeing" or is
"flourishing" in a relationship. I see this as a reflection of the
Enlightenment individualism she critiques. I long for more agency
assigned to systems and cultures and stories, and respect for the
suffering (and flourishing) of communities, ecosystems, species, even
human (political, economic, educational, etc.) systems and cultures.
Any whole can be fragmented or ill or suffering, and
can be healed or flourishing, and can create effects (good and/or bad)
on other wholes. (This is where I ended up rooting my ideas in
wholeness, although that is seen as too abstract by most people.)
Anyway, all this is tremendously juicy material and inquiry and I'm
grateful for your encouragement to check it out. Lori's definitely
someone who should be invited to the party exploring the nature of
"the movement that (as yet) has no name" (to steal from Christopher
Alexander), aka "the empathy movement".
Blessings on the Journey.
Captivity: One can be trapped in situations
and assumptions, not just in places like prison.
How to empathize with the Justice movement
"I think justice is a part of empathy." Although "Justice without
empathy seems to separate us."
"Real transformation happens when we're always moving" suggests she
has an evolutionary perspective.
Entangled empathy: We're already in webs of relationship and so
many of those are "bad relationships"! Let's think about what's not
working in those relationships and what we can do about it. That's a
big project. (I think of AA and getting right with everyone you've
done bad things to or forgiving those who have done bad things to you.
Also the Council of All Beings.) A "bad" relationship is one where all
parties aren't flourishing.
Entangled empathy is a way of consciously being, a way of practicing
empathy, and requires a lot of work. It involves listening and
perceiving and recognition and gaining certain kinds of wisdom about
how others live their lives.
Enlightenment individualism = if you are in relationship with
others, you can detach from others. She contrasts this with the
understanding that we are always in all sorts of relationship. "You
can't actually be independent of others at any point in time."
Marginalization is a way of collectively acting as if we're not
in relationship with certain others.
Interesting word, "de-moralized" (to have one's moral sense
undermined? to be set outside of a moral framework? I know it is more
related to morale, but the word suddenly struck me in a different
Failures of empathy are "failures of moral perception" (this is so
similar to the Buddhist perspective, where all sins are sins of
ignorance, the failure to perceive interconnectedness and wholeness)
Develop empathy with those close to you - family, colleagues,
neighbors - as practice in empathizing with others you feel more
Privilege as a way to not feel empathy (but/and note how Co-counselling
includes using privilege as an empowerment tool for promoting more
empathy, including for dissolving privilege)
I respect that she acknowledges the roles of power and anger in how
all this plays out
In situations of radically unequal and abused power, it is beholden
first for the privileged and abusers to practice empathy. But of
course this is not an empathic strategy, since those who can't hear
need to be heard before they can be open. In other words, empathic
activism is going to be messy, and there is a role for the saints of
the world (among both oppressed and oppressors) - and for the
facilitators and NVCers - to model and practice the empathic hearing
that is needed to break the cycles of not-hearing and not-seeing that
have become hardened into walls, habits, prejudice, and othering...
and who can do this without themselves needing to be heard first or
also (although it is a good idea for them to have empathic support
She recognizes that the systemic context conditions and constrains how
people interact and what they think is right and possible, so that
trying to inject a framing of empathy into a system of rights and
justice is sort of square peg in round hole; we have a problem of
It is significant that we have rights of "free speech" and "free
association" (individual expression and action) rather than "free
dialogue" (communal interaction)...
Gandhi's approach of using rights and disruption (a nonviolent form of
power-over) not to get his way (which is dominance) but to pressure
the powerholders to engage in dialogue (a search for truth) with him
and his followers as peers.
Edwin: An inalienable need (for empathy), not just an inalienable
right. Interesting possibilities with this framing. e.g., A Universal
Declaration of Human Needs (would it be that different in its
specifics, or just in its framing?)
"We have to back up and think about the structure of the social space
that we're in" because the culture and systems shape what's possible
or readily possible, or likely to happen. 'We have to find spaces or
gaps where we can shift or get around it" (yes and no; Gandhi and King
CREATED the spaces they needed. It is worth looking at what they did
from that perspective.)
She begins to explore that by suggesting
putting up the empathy tent and, when they come to take it down, THEN
practice empathy with the authorities. The disturbance "provides you
with an opportunity for dialogue and empathetic exchange, an
opportunity to engage with people that you might not otherwise have."
Edwin is doing some of that by putting up his empathy tent without a
permit, politely courting jail as he consistently seeks to practice
empathy and dialogue about why they don't want him to put up his tent
(what need are they trying to meet?)
Edwin: "By doing the activism it is uncovering places where the city
(or system) is not being empathic."
Rights are barriers, disconnects. Empathy is a way of honoring the
relationships that exist. "It isn't about replacing rights. It's about
rethinking the kinds of connections we're in with one another."
Where she says "this may be a copout" (around 40minutes), I think it
is. There's a false dichotomy between being in a world or situation
where we can say "you aren't empathizing with me (or them)" (on the
one hand) and battling for one's (or someone's) rights (on the other
hand). Ref back to Gandhi and King (and a bit of Edwin and Lori's own
ju jitsu analogy): one can powerfully demand the right to have an
empathic peer dialogue (in search of truth, life, flourishing by all
parties) and, if well organized and PR'd (evoking the empathy of
observers and bystanders and receptive authorities), one can put
immense (moral and material) pressure on the other party to engage in
In the meantime, many activists around you
will be expressing their outrage in a wide variety of ways (as was
true during King's and Gandhi's heydays), but within your ranks, you
are doing something else, and part of the effectiveness of that
empathic, nonviolent "something else" is the disruptive energy that
surrounds it as a threat to the status quo order which also pressures
powerholders and observers to side with the empathic nonviolent folks
as a better alternative. I suspect that there are new ways to practice
this kind of nonviolence which were not available to King and Gandhi,
such as modeling empathic engagement in mass media or social media or
Youtube, etc., to clarify what you are asking for and how you hope to
ask for it, and what kind of society you envision as a result. Miki's
book provides examples, perhaps.
It isn't a matter of having a "need for empathy"; it is more basic
than that. We ARE IN these relationships: We need to understand them
and figure out how to make them work for all involved. (Where
"creating a world that works for all" overlaps with empathy.)
The effort to cause no harms is, in fact, impossible. Life is set up
with eating, disease and death, for example, and evolution thrives on
catastrophes. Also, "harm" is a complex term; what one sees as a harm
may not be to others. Is abortion "killing the fetus/embryo/baby" or
"nurturing the health and wellbeing of the mother/woman"? Is wiping
out a disease organism a victory for life or an interference with
evolution/nature or a violent act of genocide against another life
The ideal might perhaps be to progressively
minimize intentional, unnecessary, and oblivious harms - or optimizing
the intrinsic balance between harms to the whole and its parts on the
one hand, and the flourishing of the whole and its parts on the other
hand - where "harm" and "flourishing" are continually redefined and
evolved by an evolving community or culture (as we see in the history
Related more broadly: What is the role of
collectives (communities and cultures and systems) in defining and
constituting harm or nurturance, or is it centered on individual
entities as the cause and recipient of harms (or nurturance) - and
what is the relationship between the collective/whole and the
individual in all this? There's a tremendous role for humility in the
face of the complexity of our interconnectedness.
She says we are in relationships with the people working on gas lines.
But we are also in relationship with the atmosphere (impacted by
burning the gas and all lives impacted by climate change) and with the
original organisms that became that gas.
Rights (justice) as a stepping stone to the promotion of wellbeing for
all, as a means to empathy. Good integral realization!
Injustice is part of what we attend to when we're empathizing.
Both parties need to be heard in order for it to be "empathy". This
feels clear when considering the supposed empathy of the successful
torturer or marketing agent. It feels less clear when a healer is
empathizing with a sufferer. How to articulate the difference? Tying
empathy to relationships that nurture mutual (or communal) wellbeing
or flourishing is a more fundamental definition than "being heard";
"hearing" and "being heard" are actually just (very important) means
to that end.
This whole discussion
inspires me to take another look at - and consider developing - my
earlier idea of "citizen reflective councils" in possible preference
to the concept of "citizen deliberative councils".