Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

   Home    Conference   Magazine   Empathy Tent   Services    Newsletter   Facebook    Youtube   Contact   Search

Join the International Conference on: How Might We Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion?

Empathic Design
Empathy Circles

  Restorative Empathy Circles
Empathy Tent

Expert Interviews
Obama on Empathy


    Empathy Tests


Culture of Empathy Builder:  Michael E. Morrell

The Role of Empathy in Democracy

Michael Morrell

View Video On Facebook or On Youtube

Michael E. Morrell is Associate Professor, University of Connecticut.  His main research interests examine the connections between empathy and democracy, the effects of direct democratic participation on citizens, and the role of political efficacy in democracy, public opinion, and political behavior.


Michael is also continuing to explore his theory of the role of empathy in democracy as it relates to topics ranging from President Barack Obama to agonistic democracy. Michael is author of Empathy and Democracy: Feeling, Thinking, and Deliberation


Signing of the U.S.Constitution - Junius Brutus Stearns (Wikipedia)


"Today's democracies are still struggling to fulfill
 democracy's promise of equal consideration,
and the claim I will defend is that they can

do so most fully by giving empathy a

central role in democratic
decision-making. "





Giving Empathy a Central Role in Democratic Decision-Making
Michael Morrell and Edwin Rutsch
View Video On Facebook or On Youtube 


Michael Morrell In Defense of Empathy 
April 3, 2021




Deliberative democracy

  1. Make a defense of Empathy -

  2. (what are the criticisms?)

  3. Empathy in the Political News

    1. Trump Election: the was a call to Listen to Trump Voters

    2. Biden is said to be empathic

    3. Floyd and Empathy

  4. Empathy and Deliberative Democracy


Why Empathy?

  1. Difficult history 

    1. broad and slippery definition

    2. Einfuhlung

    3. Freud

    4. Titchener

    5. Social and Development psychology

  2. many definitions - matching feelings, understanding (affective - cognitive)

  3. Muti-dimensional approach

  4. empathy is a process and not an emotion

  5. The Process model of empathy - complex nature of empathy

  6. Empathy's Important - overcomes judgment

    1. Attribution bias

    2. Out-Group Evaluations

    3. hearing the other side

    4. understanding

Problems with Empathy

  • Paul Bloom  (definition)  and criticisms

    • Empathy as spotlight - but if everyone has empathy in the world you have a lot of light.

    • biased nature of empathy - bias is the problem - not empathy

    • innumeracy - (Imaginative empathy)

  • Beyond Empathy Mary Shudder 2016, 20202  - rejects empathy

  • Scudder, Mary. 2020. Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation. New York: Oxford University Press. 

    • Selective empathy -  people are selective in empathy - so that keeps it from being effective

    • Projection Bias - we think we have listen, but we haven't.

A defense of Empathy

  • Is Bloom really against empathy -  he limits the concept to feeling others.

    • against a certain type of empathy

  • people are biased.

  • Do we limit or expand empathy

  • *if you empathize with the one. it spreads to others in the group.

  • mitigating projection bias

Coda: more problem?

  • A new paper - reviewed an article: The Empathy Dilemma - a group of people

    • 1. has some criticisms like the other critics

    • 2. epistemic injustice - places a burden of empathy on already burdened people

      • 1. have a burden to be effective

      • 2. oppressed groups may not be able to articulate their experience. they may may be even unaware of it themselves.

      • 3. some people have more opportunity to have people empathize with then.

      • 4. people may choose not to express themselves

      • 5.creating stories to communicate to a dominant group may place a burden on them.

  • They don't offer solutions.

  • The process of empathy is the best way to overcome marginalization





Michael Morrell Quotes

"One of the reasons deliberative democrats miss the importance of
empathy is that they have not sufficiently addressed
the role of affect in deliberation."

"I believe this is due, at least in part, to their tendencies to
fall back upon conceptualizations of reflection, rationality,
 and reasoning that give precedence to cognition
over affect in human judgment."

"only by placing empathy at the heart of deliberation
can democracy fulfill its promise of
 allowing legitimate decisions that
 give equal consideration to
all those in society."








Empathy and Democracy: Feeling, Thinking, and Deliberation
   by Michael E. Morrell

"Democracy harbors within it fundamental tensions between the ideal of giving everyone equal consideration and the reality of having to make legitimate, binding collective decisions.


Democracies have granted political rights to more groups of people, but formal rights have not always guaranteed equal consideration or democratic legitimacy.

It is Michael Morrell's argument in this book that empathy plays a crucial role in enabling democratic deliberation to function the way it should.


Drawing on empirical studies of empathy, including his own, Morrell offers a "process model of empathy" that incorporates both affect and cognition. He shows how this model can help democratic theorists who emphasize the importance of deliberation answer their critics."



Chapter 1. The Democratic Promise

There is a promise inherent in democracy: before a society makes decisions that it will use its collective power to enforce, it will give equal consideration to everyone in the community. The development of collective decision-making institutions that take into consideration a wider range of interests did not begin with the rise of modern democracies...


Video: Chapter 1 and 2 Discussion


  • "Today's democracies are still struggling to fulfill democracy's promise of equal consideration, and the claim I will defend is that they can do so most fully by giving empathy a central role in democratic decision-making.  Without empathy, large modern societies cannot give citizens the kind of equal consideration necessary to make democratic decisions legitimate. To demonstrate why this is the case, I draw upon a unique combination of theoretical positions regarding democracy and empathy and empirical research on the effects of empathy and the role of emotions in politics, including some of my own experimental studies."

  •  Societies and exclusion of participation  -

  • Equal Consideration and Collective Decision-Making: Response in Democratic Theory

  • The Deliberative Turn

    • "can resolve the tension between equal consideration and collective decision-making in a democracy through some form of deliberation"

  • The Affective Turn

    • "I believe we can improve deliberative theory by giving a greater place to empathy within deliberation."

    • "The problem is that most deliberative theorists have not done enough to address either the role of affect or empathy in a deliberative democracy."

  • Empathy and Democracy

    • "Empathy is necessary not just for Goodwin's "deliberation within," but for deliberative theory that strives to attain the communication between citizens that is the basis of deliberative democracy."

    • book outline

    • Ch 2 - "preliminary description of the role of affect in deliberation"

    • Ch 3 - intellectual history of empathy

    • Ch 4 - use empathy process model and relate deliberative theorists to it.

    • Ch 5 - empirical evidence to demonstrate that deliberative democracy requires empathy to function correctly.

    • Ch 6 - relate critiques of deliberation to further clarify empathy's importance.

    • Ch 7 - alternative conceptualization of deliberation

    • "I end by developing some  of the implications for the democratic process of a deliberative theory that takes empathy seriously"

Chapter 2. The Deliberative Turn in Democratic Theory
For the past several decades, democratic theory has taken a deliberative turn, and yet, as Samuel Freeman notes, “There is no settled and commonly accepted account of the central features of a deliberative democracy among political scientists and theorists” (2000, 373). In order to recognize why deliberative democracy ought to take affect and empathy more seriously,...

  • Deliberation as Reflective Decision-Making

  • Legitimacy and Public Reason: John Rawls

  • Legitimacy and Rationality: Jurgen Hagermas

  • Bernard Manin's Challenge

  • Deliberation and Affect

    • "One of the reasons deliberative democrats miss the importance of empathy is that they have not sufficiently addressed the role of affect in deliberation. I believe this is due, at least in part, to their tendencies to fall back upon conceptualizations of reflection, rationality, and reasoning that give precedence to cognition over affect in human judgment."

Chapter 3. The Elusive Concept of Empathy
As Nancy Eisenberg and Janet Strayer explain, “Because of its wide-ranging application, the notion of empathy is, and always has been, a broad, some-what slippery concept—one that has provoked considerable speculation, excitement, and confusion” (1987, 3). Jonathan Levy goes even further to state that the “word empathy has been troublesome since it entered the...


[History of the word/concept of empathy]

  • Einfuhlung, Aesthetics, and Wit

    • Robert Vischer - explaining aesthetic appreciation

    • Theodor Lipps - conceiving Einfuhlung as including reactions to humans

    • Sigmund Freud - "Freud imbues Einfuhlung with a much stronger sense of cognition than his predecessors..."

  • The Confusion of Empathy

    • Edward B. Titchener - translates Einfuhlung into English as the word empathy.

    • "In this particular instance, the picture is combined with an empathic attitude: all such 'feelings' - feelings of it, and why, and nevertheless, and therefore - normally take the form, in my experience, of motor empathy" (Titchener  185)

    • Gardner Murphy - reflects the problematic state of  the concept of empathy

  • Empathy as a Cognitive Process: Psychotherapy

    • John Dollard

    • Neal E. Miller

    • Carl Rogers - empathy "a powerful force for change and growth"

    • Heinz Kohut - empathy used for data collecting

  • Empathy as Affective Congruence: Social and Developmental Psychology

    • Lauren Wispe

    • Seymour Berger

    • Ezra Stotland

    • Albert Mehrabian and Norman Epstein

    • Nancy Eisenberg

    • Janet Strayer

    • Becky Omdahl

  • Multidimensional Empathy

    • Martin Hoffman

    • Mark Davis - "It is a growing belief among empathy theorists and researchers that there are both affective and cognitive components to empathic response. Davis "

    • Instead of defining empathy solely as affective responses or cognitive reactions, the multidimensional approach recognizes that affect and cognition are intertwined in empathy."

  • Michael uses the Davis Model of Empathy as the empathy framework.

  • Process

  • Intrapersonal Outcomes

  • Empathy as Process

    • Martha Nussbaum - "Nussbaum discusses the relationship between empathy and compassion, while her substantive conclusion is that "empathy is a mental ability highly relevant to compassion, although it is both fallible and morally neutral""

    • Dan Batson - similar views as Nussbaum

    • "I believe we should follow Rogers instead and model empathy as a process, not a state: I will therefore refer to this as the process model of empathy. This will clarify that empathy is not, in and of itself, a feeling and will focus our attention on those factors that influence the process, the mechanism by which it occurs, and the various outcomes that can result from empathizing."

  • Empathy and Sympathy

    • Gustav Jahoda

    • Adam Smith and Hume - "call "sympathy" as one of the outcomes of empathizing."

Chapter 4. Empathy in Deliberative Theory
Most deliberative theorists pay scant specific attention to empathy, and while using the process model of empathy reveals that this silence is not as pervasive as it may seem on the surface, their theories still miss some of empathy’s important contributions. In order for theories of deliberative democracy to address the tension between equal consideration and legitimacy, we must...

  • "Most  deliberative theorists pays scant attention to empathy, and while using the process model of empathy reveals that this silence is not as pervasive at it may seem on the surface, their theories still miss some of empathy's important contributions."

  • Ignoring Empathy: Deliberation as Reflective Decision-Making

    • James Madison

    • Alexander Hamilton

    • Bessette

    • Friskin

  • Impeding Empathy: Rawls, the Original Position, and Public Reason

    • Rawls

    • Susan Moller Okin

      • Sharon Krause

    • Michael Sandel

    • Richard Dagger

  • Inhibiting Empathy: Hagermas and the Generalized Other

    • Hagermas

    • Thomas McCarthy

    • G. H. Mead

    • "Habermas follows Mead in focusing on ideal role taking, not just any form of role taking. Empathy serves ideal role taking by allowing us to understand how others feel about a moral norm..."

    • "The inclusion of moral feelings and empathy as a necessary disposition in moral discourse, I believe, results from Habermas's recognition that excluding feelings from moral discourse is untenable and unrealistic."

  • Incremental Inclusion of Empathy: Deliberative Variations

    • "Deliberative theorists who follow Rawls and Habermas closely also focus exclusively on the cognitive or role-taking dimension of empathy and unsurprisingly pay little attention to its affective side."

  • James Bohman: Uptake in Deliberation

  • William Rehg: Reason and Emotion

    • "Attempts to incorporate empathy into the moral point of view suggest that 'feeling' (in some sense) could actually improve one's understanding for the other's position, and thus allow for fairer moral judgment."

  • Seya Benhabib: The Generalized Other and the Concrete Other

  • Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson; Reciprocity and Mutual Respect

    •  little to say about empathy

  • Jane Mansbridge: Beyond Adversary Democracy

    • references empathy fairly frequently

    • empathy creation of common interests

    • "Empathy can lead individuals to make another's good their own. Individual interests do not then overlap; instead, the separate individuals fuse, in a sense, into one" Mansbridge

    • parallel effect response

    • "the rule of consensus seems not only to reflect empathy but to create it" Mansbridge

  • Robert Goodin: Internal-Reflective Deliberation

    • empathetic imaging can substitute for interpersonal conversations

  • Summary:

    • "We have seen the most deliberative theorists focus primarily on the cognitive proactive of perspective taking, and they often argue for this in generalized or abstract terms."

    • Notes: reason, rational argument, affect, little or no time discussing empathy, most deliberative theorists focus mainly on cognitive empathy - perspective/role taking

Chapter 5. Empathy's Importance- The Empirical Evidence
We now have a model of the empathic process that allows us to discuss the various aspects of empathy in a more complete way, but I have yet to make the case that such an account is vital to our understanding of deliberative democracy. There are both empirical and theoretical reasons why I believe that the process model of empathy I have defended is necessary for...

  • Polarization

    • Sunstein : examples of the tendency for deliberative groups to polarize

  • Empathy and Individual Biases

  • Empathy and Out-groups

  • Altruism and helping behaviour

  • Reciprocity and the Commitment to Continued Deliberation

  • Implications of Empirical Research

    • conclusions

    • "it appear highly likely that we need citizens to engage in the process of empathy if deliberative democracy is to function properly."

    • "we ought to include empathy as pat of democratic education"

    • "try to induce empathy in the deliberative democratic system itself."

    • "I will demonstrate that we need to entirely recast deliberative theory by placing the empathic process at the heart of deliberation. This is the only way for us to insure that democracy can move toward fulfilling its promise to give all citizens equal consideration and still allow for legitimate democratic decisions,"

Chapter 6. Deliberative Democracy and its Critics
The empirical evidence indicates that the process of empathy is necessary if deliberative democracy is going to function as conceived in the core deliberative theories. Without empathizing citizens, deliberative democracy will likely be no more than a talkative form of aggregative democracy. Yet there is an alternative, further-reaching conclusion suggested by this evidence: constructing a theory of deliberative democracy with the process model of empathy required a shift in our thinking about the purpose of deliberation and it's connection to democratic legitimacy.

  • Affect, cognition, and Reason

  • The Centrality of Effect in Political Reasoning

  • Giving affect Its Place: Deliberation and Empathy

    • "I believe that deliberative theory can answer the criticisms of political psychologists and political theorists by relying upon the process model of empathy."

  • Deliberative Theorists on Rhetoric, Greeting, Narrative, and Testimony

  • Beyond Agonism

Chapter 7. Empathy and Democracy
Democracy needs the process of empathy. At the end of Chapter 5 I argued that deliberative theories, in order to address the empirical evidence, had to take the empathic process more seriously. The theoretical critiques surveyed in the previous chapter, though, make even more serious claims about the viability of deliberative democracy. The most persuasive way to...

  • "The most persuasive way to answer those claims is to adopt a new model of deliberation that gives empathy a central place in democracy. Even more important, adopting a model of deliberative democracy that incorporates the process of empathy will allow me to demonstrate how democracy can make legitimate decisions while fulfilling its promise to give equal consideration to all citizens."

  • Deliberation, Reflective Consideration and Empathy

    • Empathy and Defining Deliberation

      • "My argument is that democracy can deal with this problem by defining democracy as deliberation that puts empathy at its heart..."

      • "Having demonstrated empathy's centrality to deliberation, we can now provide a final definition: deliberation is a practice in which people contemplate a political object by engaging in an inclusive, attentive 'communicative exchange that promotes the exchange of information and the process of empathy.

    • Critics of Empathy's Role in Deliberation

    • The Process Model of Empathy and the Limits of Communication

  • Legitimacy, Justification, and Manin's Challenge

    • "Thus, a deliberative theory that takes empathy seriously leads to a more equal consideration of all affected by decisions. Yet democracy still involves making collective decisions that must be legitimate, and so now I turn to the question of how deliberation with a focus on  empathy can support democratic legitimacy."

    • The Problem of Justification

    •  Manin's Challenge

    • Empathy and Democratic Legitimacy

      • "The process of empathy is necessary for democratic legitimacy because it insures that majorities will make decisions with better knowledge of what those decisions mean."

      • "People who empathize not only understand the logical arguments of those with whom they disagree, the will gain a better knowledge of the thoughts and feelings that inform those arguments."

      • "Requiring that deliberative reflections include empathy will make it more likely that majorities are conscious of how their actions affect minorities, and if this leads to hesitation by majorities, in most cases well be a positive development. Yet empathy also required minorities to empathize with majorities, and so it does not ask that one side sacrifice more that the other. Empathy may also lead minorities to realize more keenly what they are asking for when they claim that the majority should not decide as they intend."

      • "The more the deliberation that precedes a decision includes all citizen in a free exchange of perspectives and induces them to empathize with one another, the more legitimate it will be."

  • Empathy and Feasibility of Deliberative Democracy

    • The Problem of Economy

      • "Rather that having to assimilate individuals or groups under discourses, deliberation that includes empathy allows people to consider the interests of many individuals and groups, even those who cannot speak - the excluded, the environment, nonhuman species, and those not yet born."

      • "The process of empathy is the only viable way to overcome the problems of economy by making all citizens present in democratic deliberation to as great an extent as possible, yet we must not limit empathy only to formal political institutions. "

    • The Problems of Deliberation in Practice

    • Do People Even Want to Deliberate

  • Empathy and the Democratic Promise

    • Empathy and the Democratic Practice

    • Election Financing, Lobbying, and a Federal Deliberation Commission

    • Empathy and the Democratic Promise

      • "only by placing empathy at the heart of deliberation can democracy fulfill its promise of allowing legitimate decisions that give equal consideration to all those in society."



Book Reviews


Book Review: Penn State University Press

“Empathy and Democracy demonstrates the importance of empathy in the deliberative practices that make democratic government legitimate. Deftly interweaving empirical research on the role of empathy in deliberation with a normative theory of democratic legitimacy, Morrell delivers a thoroughly researched, carefully argued book that will significantly revise conventional notions of how democratic deliberation ought to be conducted. It is valuable not only for the conceptual clarification it provides, but also for the way that it ties normative theorizing about democratic deliberation and legitimacy to empirically verifiable facts about human psychology and patterns of social interaction.” Sharon R. Krause, Brown University

Book Review: Empathy and democracy: Feeling, thinking and deliberation
Reviewed by William W Sokoloffa

"The answer to these difficult questions is simple for Morrell. Empathy can help us become better democrats."
"Empathy serves as Morrell's critical wedge to evaluate the current state of deliberative theory. "

 "For Morrell, empathy leads to

  • openness toward others (125),

  • reciprocity (115),

  • tolerance (115),

  • mutual respect (115),

  • Inclusion, attentiveness, cooperation (116) and fairness.

  • Empathy also leads to ‘legitimate, justified democratic decision-making that truly takes all into consideration’ (194).

  • Without empathy, democracy will be a broken promise."


Book Review: "Empathy and Democracy: Feeling, Thinking, and Deliberation".
Reviewed by Carlos Alberto Rivera García

"One of the challenges for democracies is to not only give voice to citizens, but to ensure that collective decision making considers the views of all citizens equally. To Michael Morrell, one way to do this is by integrating empathy into deliberation. In Empathy and Democracy, Morrell explores the place for empathy within deliberative politics, particularly in communications between citizens but also in the internal consideration implied by deliberative reasoning.

Scholars of deliberative theory have traditionally emphasized the importance of reason over emotion and cognition over affect. When people are emotional about politics, we worry that their passions will disrupt the deliberative process and distract them from careful contemplation of the evidence. But in the empirical study of citizen behavior within political psychology, there is increasing recognition that emotions are not antithetical to deliberative democracy. Emotional reactions of fear and anxiety can encourage attentiveness and learning, and feelings of enthusiasm can inspire political engagement. In light of these empirical findings, Morrell argues that affect deserves greater consideration in theoretically defining the practice of deliberative democracy.