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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Paul Bloom 


 Paul Bloom

Paul Bloom is a Professor of Psychology and Cognitive Science at Yale University. His research explores how children and adults understand the physical and social world, with special focus on language, morality, religion, fiction, and art.


"I am interested in the development and nature of our common-sense understanding of ourselves and other people...  My students and I are becoming interested in certain fundamental questions within moral psychology."





December 6, 2016




4 questions for Paul Bloom
In a new book, Bloom argues that empathy leads us astray when we rely on it to make moral decisions
By Lea Winerman

  1. People use the word "empathy" to mean different things. How do you define it?

  2. Why do you believe this kind of empathy is overrated?

  3. If empathy is not a good guide to solving moral problems, what is?

  4. You propose another problem with empathy, which may be of particular interest to clinical psychologists: burnout. You suggest that being especially empathic could be problematic for therapists and those in similar professions. Why?

The Moral Importance of Reflective Empathy
Ingmar Persson and Julian Savulescu
15 December 2017
"This is a reply to Jesse Prinz and Paul Bloom’s skepticism about the moral importance of empathy. It concedes that empathy is spontaneously biased to individuals who are spatio-temporally close, as well as discriminatory in other ways, and incapable of accommodating large numbers of individuals. But it is argued that we could partly correct these shortcomings of empathy by a guidance of reason because empathy for others consists in imagining what they feel, and, importantly, such acts of imagination can be voluntary – and, thus, under the influence of reflection – as well as automatic. Since empathizing with others motivates concern for their welfare, a reflectively justified empathy will lead to a likewise justified altruistic concern. In addition, we argue that such concern supports another central moral attitude, namely a sense of justice or fairness."


OCTOBER 20, 2017
"Empathy, if understood the way ordinary people define it, is anything but overrated…
The difficulty with publishing a nonfiction book is that you need a novel angle. It would be tough to get a contract to write something that simply expresses some basic and obvious truth, like Hooray for Love or Democracy: Isn’t It Nifty? Instead, you need the “counterintuitive” perspective, the contrarian #SlatePitch that demonstrates why that thing you thought was good was actually bad, or vice versa. Thus we get books like Against Democracy, Against Love, and even Against Everything. The market pressure for constant novelty, which operates similarly in academia and in publishing, creates a dangerous incentive toward trying to say things that are eye-catching rather than things that are true. Paul Bloom isn’t, despite what the title of Against Empathy might imply, against empathy."




Are Empathy and Concern Psychologically Distinct?
By Jordan, Matthew R.; Amir, Dorsa; Bloom, Paul

Abstract: "Researchers have long been interested in the relationship between feeling what you believe others feel—often described as empathy—and caring about the welfare of others—often described as compassion or concern. Many propose that empathy is a prerequisite for concern and is therefore the ultimate motivator of prosocial actions. To assess this hypothesis, the authors developed the Empathy Index, which consists of 2 novel scales, and explored their relationship to a measure of concern as well as to measures of cooperative and altruistic behavior. A series of factor analyses reveal that empathy and concern consistently load on different factors. Furthermore, they show that empathy and concern motivate different behaviors: concern for others is a uniquely positive predictor of prosocial action whereas empathy is either not predictive or negatively predictive of prosocial actions. Together these studies suggest that empathy and concern are psychologically distinct and empathy plays a more limited role in our moral lives than many believe."


2013-05-20 - The Baby in the Well, The Case Against Empathy
By Paul Bloom - New Yorker Magazine

"Such are the paradoxes of empathy. The power of this faculty has something to do with its ability to bring our moral concern into a laser pointer of focussed attention. If a planet of billions is to survive, however, we'll need to take into consideration the welfare of people not yet harmed—and, even more, of people not yet born. They have no names, faces, or stories to grip our conscience or stir our fellow-feeling. Their prospects call, rather, for deliberation and calculation. Our hearts will always go out to the baby in the well; it’s a measure of our humanity. But empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to have a future."  


2013-05-16 - The Zhokhar Tsarvaev Empathy Problem
By Paul Bloom
- New Yorker

 In my article in the magazine this week, I made the case against empathy. Our capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of others—to feel their pain, to make their goals our own—might well be essential for intimate relationships. Nobody would deny that parents should feel empathy toward their children, or that romantic love requires the bond that empathy provides. But when we use empathy as a guide to policy, it often takes us in irrational and cruel directions.


2014-08-26 - Against Empathy
By Paul Bloom
- Boston Review Forum

Opening the Debate Paul Bloom: Most people see the benefits of empathy as too obvious to require justification. This is a mistake.

"When asked what I am working on, I often say I am writing a book about empathy. People tend to smile and nod, and then I add, “I’m against it.” This usually gets an uncomfortable laugh.

This reaction surprised me at first, but I’ve come to realize that taking a position against empathy is like announcing that you hate kittens—a statement so outlandish it can only be a joke. And so I’ve learned to clarify, to explain that I am not against morality, compassion, kindness, love, being a good neighbor, doing the right thing, and making the world a better place. My claim is actually the opposite: if you want to be good and do good, empathy is a poor guide."

With Responsive by Peter Singer, Jack W. Berry, Lynn E. O'Connor, Marianne LaFrance, Nomy Arpaly, Christine Montross, Barbara H. Fried, Leslie Jamison, Leonardo Christov-Moore,  Marco Iacoboni, Simon Baron-Cohen, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, Sam Harris, Jesse Prinz



Facilitating a Dialog about the Articles

Edwin Rutsch - Empathizing With Paul Bloom
Director: Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
After reading Paul's articles, the first thing I did was to email him and ask if I could interview and empathize with him and his point of view about empathy. I'm coming from a very different position than he is, instead of wanting to limit empathy, I feel we need to expand it and build a global culture of empathy. We need to nurture, deepen and strengthen empathy in ourselves, in our family, with friends, colleagues, neighborhoods, communities, institutions and all over the world.  For me, the 'means are the ends', so it's important to empathize with people who denigrate or are against empathy and to really deeply listen to and hear their concerns about it.

Edwin Rutsch

 I set an email to Paul Bloom to see if  he would be willing to do an interview and talk about his article? 


Your interviews look terrific, and I'd love to participate -- but now is a particularly hectic time. Can we revisit this in a couple of months?”  Paul Bloom  


Dear Paul

Thanks for the quick reply. I’m available to do the interview/dialog whenever you have time and space for it. Let me know some dates and times that work for you and we can get it on the calendar. We use Google hangouts, so it can be done at any time from any computer with a webcam.

I would like to do the interview as soon as possible to follow up on your article. Since your article just came out, an interview about it would be timely, ‘striking while the iron is hot’, so to speak. Since I come from the intention that we need to build an empathic culture, I think it would be very interesting and fruitful to explore and dialog about the problems you see with empathy. I’d like to ‘empathize’ with your point of view.

Perhaps we could also have some Panel or ‘Empathy Circle’  type discussions with others in the field about your article. I have interviews lined up this week with Marco Iacoboni  and Helen Reiss  to respond to the article. I’ve also just talked with George Lakoff  about it and he may do an interview as well.. I’ll also be lining up others. Would you be willing to do a group video call as well with them? Can you think of other people who you think would be good to invite to such a call?
I look forward to hearing from you. Warmly, Edwin


It sounds great, Edwin, and I appreciate the desire to do this quickly. But I'm afraid the timing just doesn't work out on my end: I'm leaving for London in a couple of days, and when I get back, I have various family obligations that'll keep me busy. Sorry to disappoint, but, again, thanks for reaching out to me.   

Paul Bloom 


Thanks for the kind reply and update Paul,
Wishing you a good trip to London, I’ll contact you in a couple of months then - that would be in July.
I am available at any time before if the occasion arises.. Very much looking forward to dialoging, empathizing and reasoning with you.
Warmly, Edwin


Dear Paul,
I hope you had a good trip to London and have had time for your family obligations.
I wanted to follow up on doing an empathic interview with you on your ‘Case Against Empathy’ article. I’d like to see if we can line up a time and date for that.
I’ve done some other discussions around the issues you raise, you can see them here. There’s also other articles related to your article.
I’m looking forward to talking with you.
Warmly, Edwin


I received an email back from Paul that he'd rather I not post the contents of his current and future email conversations to the web since he writes more causally in his emails. So I'm not posting his reply to the last email.

He also said, he didn't have time to do an interview. When I interviewed Michael Slote (see below) about his response to the article, he said, 'I don't think Paul will really do an interview with you'. While I was optimistic, it looks like Michael was right. 


My invitation to dialog and for me to empathize with Paul is an open invitation. I hope he will find time sometime in the future.


Dear Paul,

I feel disappointed that you don’t want to dialog with me about your article. I was looking forward to having the opportunity to empathize with you and more deeply understand where you are coming from around your criticisms and opposition to empathy. I’ll just mention I have an open invitation to you to have a discussion about your work and criticisms of empathy. Since I’m looking at how we can create a more empathic global culture, I like to understand people’s concerns and objections to that. I also feel that an empathic and informed discussion could assist the public in better understanding the nature of empathy.

I continue to try and foster an dialog around the issues, ideas, needs and values you raised in your articles. Some people I’ve talked to include people in academia: Frans de Waal, Daniel Batson, George Lakoff, Helen Riess, Sara Konrath, Jonathan Baron, Ilana Ritov, Daryl Cameron, Lou Agosta, etc. I have been talking with others you referenced in the article as well. I have some more interviews lined up.

You did mention the Empathy Circle dialog and response from Alice. It sounds like you didn’t feel supported, empathized with or understood by Alice and others in the circle. I’m sure Alice and others would be glad to talk directly with you online. I’d be glad to host any sort of an Empathy Circle dialog with anyone you’d like to invite. I’ve hosted Empathy Circles with Democrats and Republicans around how they could create more empathy together. Goodness knows politics sure needs more mutual understanding. The Empathy Circle uses reflective listening so each person feels heard to their satisfaction before we move on to the next person. See 

In the dialogs I’ve hosted, there has been a wide variety of agreement and disagreement with your article and ideas. I invite you to do a Empathy Circle panel discussion with some of the people I’ve mentioned. I’m sure they would be glad to dialog with you. It would also be good to talk with people who have a deeper understanding of empathy, like George Lakoff, Helen Reiss, etc. Perhaps you could invite Steven Pinker to a panel? I did invite Steven to do a dialog on empathy but he declined due to a heavy schedule..

I am a bit baffled why the people who are against empathy don’t seem to want to do dialog/interviews about it with me and be empathized with. I would think they would be glad to have an informed forum to express and dialog about their views. For example;

* National Review Magazine, "Against Empathy" by Kevin D. Williamson.   After initially saying they would do an interview they stopped responding.

* You referenced Jesse Prinz and his arguments against empathy and he doesn’t respond to requests to talk about his work. (postscript, I did an interview with Jesse Prinz. Also see below)

* Jan Slaby, “Against Empathy: Critical Theory and the Social Brain“
 “I'm sorry, I have to cancel the interview. I don't feel like speaking extensively about empathy, as my work on the topic is so far rather sketchy and general, and I like to do more research to make my views firmer before I go online with an extensive q&a on the matter. I have to postpone this for the time being, I hope you understand. very best, Jan”


Also, In terms of posting our email conversation to my web page, are you requesting I remove the ones I posted, or just not post the new ones? I can remove the previous ones if that is important to you. As you requested, I will not post the last one or future ones without your ok..

I do hope you will reconsider and do a discussion with me and/or do an Empathy Circle with a wider panel of informed experts in the field. I do think it would contribute to the general discussion and understanding by the public about the nature of empathy. I would certainly enjoy it and find it helpful.

Thanks for taking the time for this email discussion.
Warmly, Edwin


2014-09-01 - EmpathyWorks - Against Empathy?
"Whether or not you agree with Bloom's arguments, the post is worth reading, as are the many insightful and often brilliant responses written by a broad spectrum of commentators, including: Marco Iacoboni,  neuroscientist..."



2013-06-05 - Throwing Out the Baby With the Bath Water - Revisiting the case against empathy
by Sara Konrath - Principal Investigator of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research

Paul Bloom recently wrote an interesting essay in the New Yorker (5/20/2013) called “The Baby in the Well,” in which he suggested that desires for a more empathic society are misguided, and that in fact, empathy is morally problematic. He writes: “Empathy is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate. We’re often at our best when we’re smart enough not to rely on it.”
Bloom sets up an extreme argument in his essay, essentially asking, “what does empathy without reason or logic look like?” To me this is an unfair question, because it assumes that empathy and reason always operate in opposition to each other, with the implicit idea that being empathic is not very intelligent.


Video:  Empathizing with Paul Bloom's Case Against Empathy - Sara Konrath & Edwin Rutsch 

Sara Konrath is the Principal Investigator of the Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research


Video: Empathizing with Paul Bloom and his Anti-Empathy Article: Michael Slote & Edwin Rutsch 
 Michael Slote is Professor of Ethics at the University of Miami and author of The Ethics of Care and Empathy.




Empathic Response by Helen Riess & Edwin Rutsch to The Baby in the Well, the case against empathy
Helen Riess  M.D. is Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School and Director of the Empathy and  Relational Science Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Edwin, I agree, Paul Bloom is using an outdated definition of empathy and I would be willing to talk with you this Sunday late afternoon about it. I find that people who don't know the meaning of the word are soiling our work in the minds of the public. We have neuroscience to back up our definitions of empathy that need to be aired.   Helen Riess  
Dear Edwin,
It was a pleasure to talk with you again, and thank you for holding the empathy community together. Bloom's article highlights the need to educate the public about the neuroscience of empathy and I hope my Huff Post will be published, where I begin that conversation.


While Bloom and David Brooks are singing a different tune, they do give us the opportunity to speak up and disseminate our thinking. They have a rough road ahead if they think they can convince lay people that empathy is bad, but I worry more about educators trying to establish empathy training into institutions and those institutions using arguments like Bloom's due to a lack of precise terminology.  Helen Riess

Video: Empathic Response by Helen Riess & Edwin Rutsch to The Baby in the Well, the case against empathy

2013-05-20 - THE BABY IN THE WELL by Helen Riess, M.D.
A letter in response to Paul Bloom’s article

 Paul Bloom, in his article on the irrational consequences of empathy, suggests that empathy is devoid of reason.  Neuroscientific research has identified several distinct brain regions that are activated when humans are confronted with the painful experience of others. Empathy is a complex capacity that includes cognitive, emotional, moral and behavioral processes, not only to feel another’s pain but to imagine how one could alleviate his suffering and take rational steps to help that person.

Just as the Cartesian notion that thinking, not feeling, defines being human is out of date, Bloom’s assertion that empathy is only about feeling the pain of others is becoming obsolete. Our civilization should be encouraged toward empathy for the evident benefits it affords our species.


Video: Empathy Circle 2: Empathizing with Paul Bloom's and his Case Against Empathy
Empathy Circle participants talk about and respond to the article.



Video: Empathizing with Paul Bloom and his Case Against Empathy, Jason Marsh & Edwin Rutsch  
Jason Marsh is the founding editor in chief of Greater Good Magazine at U.C. Berkeley. 



George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist and professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Hi George,

I’m doing some interviews in response to this New Yorker article,... Would you be willing to talk about your response?  Edwin

Yes, but I'd have to think it through. Bloom's piece is full of mistakes and half-truths. Remember Don't Think of an Elephant. You can't let his characterization structure the discussion or you lose automatically.  George Lakoff...


The short answer. The mirror neuron circuitry (linking pre-motor, parietal, pre-frontal, amygdala, and insula at least) allows us immediate strong empathy and the prefrontal circuitry (super-mirror neurons) allows for judgment as to when to turn it off. The fact that the brain uses the same circuitry for imagining seeing and doing as it uses for actual seeing and doing creates imagined empathy, that is, extended empathy, that goes beyond direct empathy.


 It is extended empathy that is crucial here and that Obama has discussed as the basis of democracy (see The Little Blue Book). It is extended empathy that allows us to empathizes with the women in the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh. Bloom only discusses direct empathy but it is extended empathy that he makes use of when he discusses policies that are needed to help people beyond the reach of direct empathy.


But, we know from neuroscience, that extended empathy derives from and requires direct empathy. He should be arguing for the development of the capacity for extended empathy. We need more empathy development, not less.  George ...


Frans de Waal - Here are a few reactions: (to Baby in the Well, The Case Against Empathy)

To Edwin,
Obviously empathy is not universally good. It is not even defined as a positive capacity, since its definition has to do with adopting the emotional state of others, understanding their situation, which are capacities that may be used for negative or exploitative purposes. I am on board with Bloom that pure empathy is not going to save the world, and that it may even be dangerous given the bias that's built into empathy, a bias for the own group and for people similar to us.

But I am surprised by his suggestion that we need to separate empathy and rationality, as if this is even possible. This is built upon the traditional dichotomy in Western thought between emotion & reason. Most psychological science has now debunked this dichotomy.

First, emotions are quite intelligent, since they rest on appraisal mechanisms that require a cognitive evaluation of the situation we are in.

Second, rationality could not even exist without emotions, as there would be no reason to think about anything if we were not emotionally interested. Pure reason is pure fiction. Read Damasio, read Hume. Bloom follows a very Cartesian line of thought.

If we think about what kind of society we'd like to live in, automatically we will bring emotions and empty into the picture. We may rationally decide that slavery is not acceptable, that it undermines society, that it denies human rights, yet Lincoln mentioned explicitly in his correspondence that he was seriously bothered by the sight of slaves when he visited the south and that this was part of his motivation to fight slavery.

Emotions seep into every rational decision we make, and for Bloom to suggest that it could be otherwise is naive. Yet, if his point is that some emotions and some forms of empathy can be counterproductive, I agree and the difference of opinion is perhaps not as great as it may seem.

Empathy is a capacity that has evolved over the last 200 million years in the mammals, it can't be as bad as Bloom makes it seem.

I hope this helps,
Frans de Waal


2013-05-20 - Don't Blame Empathy
Jodi Halpern MD, PhD -  Huffington Post

Author, From Detached Concern to Empathy,  Associate Professor of BIoethics at UC Berkeley, School of Public Health

"In a recent New Yorker piece, Paul Bloom argues that empathy is the wrong stance for public morality, as in promoting public health, because it focuses our attention on the individuals we readily empathize with -- such as the baby stuck in a well -- and blinds us to the unmet needs of the many whose problems are harder to imagine.


Mr. Bloom makes a number of valid points. But, as Michael Zakaras points out, Bloom seems to miss the cognitive aspects of empathy, and thus misses the crucial role that empathy must play in ethical decisions. Zakaras, though, goes too far in defending empathy as the basis of a coherent moral vision. Both authors ignore the bigger problem we face in policy decisions, which is that we seem to lack a capacity to bring our distinct moral perspectives -- empathy, justice, efficiency -- into one coherent view. This is a limitation of reason, not of empathy."

2013-05-20 - Can You Run Out of Empathy?
Daryl Cameron -
is a social psychology doctoral candidate at UNC Chapel Hill.

"An essay in this week’s New Yorker argues that we don't have enough empathy to go around. But new research says we can keep renewing and expanding our feeling for others. Is empathy a limited resource, easily depleted and restricted to those closest to us? That’s the argument psychologist Paul Bloom makes in an essay for this week’s New Yorker, subtitled “The case against empathy.” He admits that empathy can do a lot of good: decades of research show that feeling empathy can lead us to be more caring, forgiving, and altruistic.

But according to Bloom, empathy also can do a lot of bad. It’s an untrustworthy moral compass because it is “parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate.” Empathy seems tuned to only one frequency, that of a single identifiable victim, with whom we feel some personal connection. According to Bloom, these biases make empathy ill-suited to help us confront crises like natural disasters, genocides, and climate change. Bloom concludes, “Empathy will have to yield to reason if humanity is to have a future."

Video: Can You Run Out of Empathy? Daryl Cameron Response to The Case Against Empathy
 Daryl Cameron interviewed by Edwin Rutsch

 Paul Bloom Against Empathy & For Reason: Denise Cummins for Empathy & Reason (interviewed by Edwin)

Denise Dellarosa Cummins is a retired Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include the evolution and development of higher cognition in artificial and biological systems. Her experimental investigations focus on Causal Cognition, Social Cognition, and Moral Cognition.
Denise is an author and contributor to several books including, Good Thinking and The Other Side of Psychology. She wrote an article titled, What's Wrong With Empathy, as a response to 'The Case Against Empathy' by Paul Bloom in The New Yorker.

She writes, "To most of us, the idea that empathy is a good thing is a no brainer. The more we empathize with the plight of others, the more ethical and moral we behave towards them. Yet a number of psychologists and philosophers reject this view....

Some experts believe empathy leads to bad moral judgments and bad social policy... The desire to censure empathy stems from the belief that empathy and other emotions necessarily lead to anarchy and retributive justice, while reason necessarily leads to order and good judgment. Yet sufficient evidence from the annals of human history plainly shows that reason, untempered by empathy, is just as likely to lead to tyranny and genocide as it is to lead to good judgment. When compassion and reason are decoupled, judgment is not improved. Instead, the door is opened to inhumane practices."

Empathizing with Paul Bloom's Case Against Empathy: Denise Cummins & Edwin Rutsch  

Video: A Narcissistic Psychopath Responds to Paul Bloom 'Against Empathy' article in the New Yorker.
Sam Vaknin
interviewed by Edwin Rutsch. Sam Tested as Narcissist with Psychopathic tendencies.
 He is Author of 'Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited' and was featured in the documentary "I, Psychopath.




Video: Lou Agosta in Response to Paul Bloom & The New Yorker's Anti-Empathy Article
Lou Agosta is author of Empathy in the Context of Philosophy
Interviewed by Edwin Rutsch.


Video: Actor Diana Castle Empathizing with Paul Bloom's Case Against Empathy with Edwin Rutsch
Diana Castle’s THE IMAGINED LIFE – Acting As The Art of The Empathetic Imagination - is a creative philosophy and practical application of your natural empathetic imagination to the art of acting.



Seung Chan Lim (Slim) Empathizing with Paul Bloom's Case Against Empathy.
A Human Centered Designer Responds. Slim is the director for project Realizing Empathy. Realizing Empathy is a project that asks what it means to make something, how it works as a process, and why it matters to our lives.
Video: Seung Chan Lim (Slim) Empathizing with Paul Bloom's Case Against Empathy with Edwin Rutsch


Maureen O'Hara is Professor in the Psychology Department at National University, La Jolla, CA and President Emerita of Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco. She was a coworker with Carl Rogers.

 Hi Maureen,
Have you seen these articles by Paul Bloom I’m wondering what your take on them is?

Here's what I wrote to the friend who sent me the piece (I am in Brazil).
Oh dear. Where to start. This is so full of straw man arguments it is really not worth taking on. Ayn Rand would love it.

1st. He does not define what he is talking about. Is he talking about

  • emotional (empathy)

  • cognitive (empathy)

  • rational (empathy)

  • somatic (empathy)

  • person-to-person (empathy)

  • philosophical (empathy)

  •  ?

Also, discussing "empathy" in isolation is a reductionist trick that makes no sense. You can't separate it out like a "thing' and then argue that it needs other 'things' like reason and judgment. .

2. He makes comments like: "Empathy has some unfortunate features—it is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate. We’re often at our best when we’re smart enough not to rely on it." Though he uses psychological experiments to make his case, he ignores work such as Fans de Waal's or Martha Nussbaum's that suggest the opposite--that we make better decisions and our moral reasoning is sounder when we are linked emotionally through empathy.

3. He says: "It is impossible to empathize with 7 billion strangers".
 Maybe true for him but again no data. How about Gandhi, MLK, Jesus, Chris Stout and the hundreds of thousands of groups world wide who empathize with "humanity" and care enough  about the future to dedicate their lives to "strangers" .?

What about you?



hi Maureen

...There's also the question of if empathy is good, bad, or neutral. Bloom has support from De Waal and Dan Batson, etc. that empathy can be used for "good or bad". (They seem to disagree with him on the separation of empathy and reason). I see empathy as a positive trait and we have levels of empathy in us that can increase or decrease.

The empathy part is positive, and it's the areas of our awareness that don't have empathy that are the problem. Their point, to me, would be like, breathing can be used for good or bad.. I.e. A murderer is breathing so their breathing is used for bad. This reasoning could be extended to the idea that, a murder is 'living' so life can be used for good or bad. It doesn't make sense to me. To me they are saying empathy can be used for being unempathic. I'd say there are other factors, fear, alienation, indifference, etc. that are the cause of the 'bad'.  I'm also think that good and bad, could be replaced with empathic (good) and unempathic (bad-evil) and a variable scale in between. Simon Baron-Cohen writes about this as well.

Warmly, Edwin



People Referenced in the Article Respond

Here are some comments and responses by people that were directly mentioned or referenced in the article. I invited them into the dialog and asked them to share their perspective. I tried to empathize with and understand their points of view.


"Moral judgment entails more than putting oneself in another’s shoes. As the philosopher Jesse Prinz points out, some acts that we easily recognize as wrong, such as shoplifting or tax evasion, have no identifiable victim. And plenty of good deeds—disciplining a child for dangerous behavior, enforcing a fair and impartial procedure for determining who should get an organ transplant, despite the suffering of those low on the list—require us to put our empathy to one side. Eight deaths are worse than one, even if you know the name of the one; humanitarian aid can, if poorly targeted, be counterproductive; the threat posed by climate change warrants the sacrifices entailed by efforts to ameliorate it."  Paul Bloom

For & Against Empathy: Is Empathy Necessary for Morality? Jesse Prinz & Edwin Rutsch

Jesse Prinz is Distinguished Professor at City University of New York, Graduate Center. He says "I work primarily in the philosophy of psychology, broadly construed. I am interested in how the mind works. I think philosophical accounts of the mental can be fruitfully informed by findings from psychology, the neurosciences, anthropology, and related fields. My theoretical convictions are unabashedly empiricist. I hope to resuscitate core claims of British Empiricism against the backdrop of contemporary philosophy of mind and cognitive science."


Jesse wrote a couple of papers critical of empathy titled, 'Against Empathy' and 'Is Empathy Necessary for Morality?'  His work has been referenced by other articles critical of empathy like 'The Baby in the Well, The case against empathy' by Paul Bloom in The New Yorker and 'The Limits of Empathy' by David Brooks in the New York Times.

In this engaging interview-dialog, Edwin Rutsch empathizes with Jesse about the problems he sees with empathy and replies to some of the criticisms.  Jesses says, "empathy is prone to biases that render it potentially harmful. Another construct—concern—fares somewhat better, but it is also of limited use. 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."
Sub Conferences: Science: Philosophy

Video: For & Against Empathy: Is Empathy Necessary for Morality? Jesse Prinz & Edwin Rutsch

talks about definitions of empathy and references “the empathy-altruism hypothesis”
 by C. Daniel Batson.

"There is now widespread support, in the social sciences, for what the psychologist C. Daniel Batson calls “the empathy-altruism hypothesis.” Batson has found that simply instructing his subjects to take another’s perspective made them more caring and more likely to help."

Video: Dan Batson Responds to The Case Against Empathy by Paul Bloom, (In dialog with Edwin Rutsch)
I talk with Dan Batson about the article and hear his response. Dan Batson is Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas. He formulated the 'empathy-altruism hypothesis' which says, "If we feel empathy towards a person, we are likely to help them (in proportion to the empathy felt) without any selfish thoughts. Otherwise, we will help them only if the rewards of helping them outweigh the costs." Wikipedia


Paul asks, why do people respond to some misfortunes and not to others?
 He points to a study by Paul Slovic who says there was more care and concern about one person
 than the suffering masses in Darfur.

 "The immense power of empathy has been demonstrated again and again. It is why Americans were rivetted by the fate of Natalee Holloway, the teen-ager who went missing in Aruba, in 2005. It’s why, in the wake of widely reported tragedies and disasters—the tsunami of 2004, Hurricane Katrina the year after, or Sandy last year—people gave time, money, and even blood. It’s why, last December, when twenty children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut, there was a widespread sense of grief, and an intense desire to help. Last month, of course, saw a similar outpouring of support for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Last month, of course, saw a similar outpouring of support for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. Why do people respond to these misfortunes and not to others?

 The psychologist Paul Slovic points out that, when Holloway disappeared, the story of her plight took up far more television time than the concurrent genocide in Darfur. Each day, more than ten times the number of people who died in Hurricane Katrina die because of preventable diseases, and more than thirteen times as many perish from malnutrition. There is, of course, the attention-getting power of new events.

Just as we can come to ignore the hum of traffic, we become oblivious of problems that seem unrelenting, like the starvation of children in Africa—or homicide in the United States."

Video: Paul Slovic Responds to The Case Against Empathy by Paul Bloom
(In dialog with Edwin Rutsch).
Here I chat with Paul Slovic about his response. Paul is a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon and studies judgment and decision processes with an emphasis on decision making under conditions of risk.


The article claims that Empathy leads to retribution.
It cites a study by Jonathan Baron and Ilana Ritov as support of this point.

"On many issues, empathy can pull us in the wrong direction. But the appetite for retribution is typically indifferent to long-term consequences. In one study, conducted by Jonathan Baron and Ilana Ritov, people were asked how best to punish a company for producing a vaccine that caused the death of a child. 

Some were told that a higher fine would make the company work harder to manufacture a safer product; others were told that a higher fine would discourage the company from making the vaccine, and since there were no acceptable alternatives on the market the punishment would lead to more deaths. Most people didn’t care; they wanted the company fined heavily, whatever the consequence."

[Edwin's Response: 

Retribution is Unempathic.
The problems mentioned are not caused by empathy but by the unempathic response of retribution. The justice system is based on competition, judgment and retribution and is low on empathy. The empathic approach is to listen to all parties involved in the problem and to facilitate all the parties empathizing, dialoging, listening, and understanding each other and taking empathic action together.

Bias is Unempathic.
To be biased against one person over another is to be not fully empathic. Empathizing with one person and not another is a lack of empathy for all people. So the problem is with the unempathic state of bias, not with empathy.  The empathy needs to be extended to everyone as well as supporting others to empathize with each other.

What is the Basis for Public Policy.

What should be the basis for public policy? If public policy makers are not empathizing with the aspirations, values needs of the citizens, then what? Should the basis for policy be the top down patronizing authoritarian dictates of the leader who knows better than everyone else about what's good for them? Or is it to empathize with the hopes, aspirations, values and needs of the citizens, (or somewhere along that continuum?). Policies need to be geared towards fostering greater and deeper empathy between people.]

Jonathan Baron - Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Jonathan Baron, Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania." I study how people think about moral questions, especially questions about public policy.


Current topics of interest are the nature of individual differences in reflective and intuitive thinking, and the possible existence of naïve theories of the role of citizens in democracies, such as the idea that people should vote for their self-interest or for the interests of groups with which they identify.

Video: Jonathan Baron: Responds to the Case Against Empathy by Paul Bloom
(In dialog with Edwin Rutsch)

Ilana Ritov - Professor of Education & Psychology School of Education, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Response:  email to Edwin Rutsch
"Just briefly, the term "identifiable victim" was coined by Shelling. Regarding Paul Bloom's reference to our work, I think it was quite accurate. I share his view that while empathy certainly has an important role, it is highly susceptible to biases, and should not serve as the sole basis for public policy."


Other articles, etc. found replying to the article.


I Could Say that Paul Bloom is a Callous Idiot, But I Empathize With Him…


" Note: I am late to the discussion on Paul Bloom’s “Against Empathy,” which appeared in the Boston Review earlier this year. But as far as I can tell, though Bloom’s essay received plenty of attention, it has not gotten nearly enough of the outright ridicule that it deserves."

2014-09 - Against Empathy?
Michael Goldstein

"Whether or not you agree with Bloom's arguments, the post is worth reading, as are the many insightful and often brilliant responses written by a broad spectrum of commentators, including: Marco Iacoboni,  neuroscientist; Peter Singer, ethicist; Barbara Fried, law professor and public policy expert; Maryanne LaFrance, psychologist and women's studies expert; Nomy Arpaly, philosophy professor; Christine Montross, physician/poet; and Leslie Jamison and Simon Baron-Cohen, writers/commentators with  strong interests in empathy."


2013-05-14 - The Limits of Empathy
Thomas Wartenberg is a philosophy professor at Mount Holyoke College. His main areas of active research are the philosophy of film, philosophy for children, and the philosophy of art. - Psychology today

"In the May 20, 2013, issue of The New Yorker, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom agreed with my point. In reviewing a spate of recent books advocating the importance of empathy, Bloom concludes that empathy can only get us so far. He points out that empathy works to move us out of ourselves, but its range is quite limited. We can often feel empathy for specific individuals who have suffered terribly – such as James “Bim” Costello whose picture showing him staggering from the Boston Marathon bomb site was plastered in newspapers and the web. But it’s a lot harder to feel empathy for nameless victims who are only reported in the news media as statistics. This is why Bloom rejects empathy as an adequate grounds for morality."

Video: Thomas Wartenberg Responds to The Case Against Empathy by Paul Bloom (In Dialog with Edwin Rutsch)

2013-07-16 - Empathy versus rationality?
by Tom Atlee

"Obviously Bloom and Harris-Gershon are making excellent points – especially that we need to expand beyond the narrow focus of most empathy. But there is a serious fallacy in their reasoning: they pose empathy and reason as opposed sides in a dichotomy. They have framed the issue as reason, logic, and statistics VERSUS emotion, empathy, and compassion. While acknowledging the value of empathy, both essayists argue that reason is far superior for dealing with today’s challenges. However, their arguments narrowly focus on the shortcomings of empathy, neglecting the considerable shortcomings of rationality. "

2013-10-19 - Empathy and Prevention – a reply to Paul Bloom
By Halley Faust,
physician specialist in preventive medicine and bioethics and venture capitalist.

"In the May 20, 2013 issue of the New Yorker Paul Bloom argues convincingly that policy should include more rational argument and less empathy. Empathy leads us to spend a million dollars to get a single little girl out of a well, and yet have to scrap over pennies for building a fence that keeps the girl out of the well in the first place. Empathy leads us to commit an outsized amount of research funds to a deadly disease that affects only a few people, while ignoring or underfunding research that would prevent diseases in the first place. Empathy leads us to worry about the effects of mitigation of global warming because of anecdotes about people who might be put out of business with greater regulatory efforts to reduce carbon emissions, while not being able to envision and prevent the effects on future generations (now a cliche). Bloom is right about all of this. But he is wrong about his conclusion."

2013-05-20 - The case against the case against empathy
David A. Welch
Professor of Political Science at the University of Waterloo

"Bloom tilts at windmills and lets innuendo convey the message that empathy is bad and reason is good. There is just enough hedging in the piece to supply plausible deniability on this charge, but we all know how catchy journalism really works. Little qualifications on the side don’t affect most readers’ takeaway. At the end of the day, nobody really disagrees with the statement that “Moral judgment entails more than putting oneself in another’s shoes.”"

2013-05-25 - Address delivered by Paul Farmer at the University of Delaware’s 164th Commencement
Humanitarian Paul Farmer speaks "On Empathy and Reason"
Department of Global Health and Social Medicine - Harvard Medical School

"A few words first about empathy and reason prior to the story of my remarkable discovery of Empathy Deficit Disorder, a feat sure to be honored with great renown. In the May 20th edition of The New Yorker, Paul Bloom wrote a concise (if not exactly Lincolnesque) essay called “The Baby in the Well.” It’s a critique of our ready rush to empathy as the answer to all the world’s ills, including the ones we so often see in our work. The essay’s title refers to a story I remember well, as will your parents: In 1987, a baby named Jessica McClure fell into a well somewhere in Texas.


 Bloom goes on to mention similar well-recalled events, from another child who in 1949 fell into some other well, to those without happy endings, such as the 2005 disappearance of a teenager named Natalee Holloway while vacationing in Aruba. “Why,” he asks, “do people respond to these misfortunes and not to others?” Bloom, like many of you here a student of psychology, reviews the works of his colleagues:”

2013-06-03 - Is Empathy Bad?
James Dawes - Professor American literature; countercultures; human rights; literary and language theory;

"Paul Bloom’s recent New Yorker article, “The Case Against Empathy,” makes a depressing argument: empathy—our ability to feel for others—is at the heart of what it means to be a human, and empathy is bad.

Here’s the problem as Bloom sees it: we are hardwired to have empathy for people who exist and, of the people who exist, people we know. This is a big problem in and of itself. But what’s worse is that we don't experience this basic constraint on empathy as a problem. In our day-to-day, we experience it as virtue." 

2013-06-27 - When too much empathy is dangerous
William Reville -
Associate Professor in Biochemistry
"When empathy causes us to ignore logic or science, its consequences can be harmful to all.
But abstract statistics don’t engage our empathy. On the other hand, those who oppose reductions in carbon dioxide emissions have many identifiable victims now – all those who will be hurt by the high cost of reducing emissions. Consequently, empathic concerns today frustrate action to reduce emissions allowing global warming, that will harm countless people in the future, to continue. The lesson is: good moral judgments and good deeds often call on us to put empathy to one side."

2013-05-19 - The New Yorker's Epic Fail On Innovation
Steve Denning - Forbes


 "The role of empathy in the Creative Economy
It is therefore astonishing to read in the book review section of the 2013 innovation issue a denigration of the very notion of empathy. It describes a number of books that rightly point to the growing importance of empathy and then bizarrely declares the “enthusiasm for empathy” to be “misplaced”. That’s because “empathy has some unfortunate features—it is parochial, narrow-minded and innumerate.” Empathy, we are told, leads us to reach out to the visible few and ignore the less empathetic, but more substantial, masses."

In effect, welcome to the 20th Century! Thus the enormous flaw of 20th Century management was a lack of empathy for both customers and employees; instead there was a reliance on efficiency no matter what, through cost-cutting and time-and-motion studies, with the goal of making money for the company and its executives.


2013-05-16 - The Case Against the Case Against Empathy
Michael Zakaras -  Huffington Post

 "Empathy," writes Paul Bloom in The New Yorker this week, "is parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate. We're often at our best when we're smart enough not to rely on it." We'd be better off were we to supplant our flawed empathetic sensibilities with reason (that most flawless of human capacities)...

But to truly empathize is not easy. In this sense Bloom is right: we're more likely to do so with those who look and think like we do. So rather than dismiss empathy, why not commit ourselves to practicing it more deliberately and more often, and expanding our spheres of empathy to those who are not just different but who challenge some of our very own moral foundations?

2013-05-19 - The Case Against Empathy
David Harris-Gershon - Tikkun Daily


"Empathy is destroying us. Allow me to explain: One of our most powerful, affective emotions is our ability to feel or relate to the condition of another. While emotions such as grief and guilt often lead to paralysis, empathy leads us to action. We witness the suffering of someone in our community, read an emotive Facebook post of a friend in need of help, or hear the pained cries of our child and are moved to act. (We donate money to a personal cancer fund, offer advice, and comfort our child.)

Why? Because we, in part, are able to personally feel the experience of that person standing outside ourselves. We are hit by an emotional wave that is personal, and that wave pushes us forward. In some ways, empathy is killing us. This is the case Paul Bloom makes in The New Yorker, where he explores how the parochial and narrow borders that define empathy are working against us in a global world where we affect not just those around us, but those across this planet."

May 15, 2013 - Empathy is a Contact Sport…Bleeding Hearts Need Not Apply
Jacqueline Acho

"Paul Bloom gives important and eloquent voice to the critics of “empathy” in his recent piece in the New Yorker. I read it with great interest, respect, and gratitude to him for shining a light on how the idea of empathy can be misperceived and misused, especially politically. Much of the confusion lies in various interpretations of what “empathy” is and is not...  

2013-07-15- What To Do With Empathy
by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins 

Paul Bloom’s recent New Yorker essay, “The Baby in the Well,” has created a small internet stir by calling out the many vices rather than the oft heralded virtues of empathy—a major academic and self-help trend. Bloom’s basic criticism can be summed as follows: empathy distracts us from what really matters since it requires feeling or relating to the situation of others to necessitate social/political action; such feelings are typically directed at concerns of relative insignificance when compared to situations of dire importance that fail to engender much empathy. 

2013-07-23 - Critiques of empathy from the point of view of reason: are they valid? Michel Bauwens

Obviously Bloom and Harris-Gershon are making excellent points – especially that we need to expand beyond the narrow focus of most empathy. But there is a serious fallacy in their reasoning: they pose empathy and reason as opposed sides in a dichotomy. They have framed the issue as reason, logic, and statistics VERSUS emotion, empathy, and compassion.

While acknowledging the value of empathy, both essayists argue that reason is far superior for dealing with today’s challenges. However, their arguments narrowly focus on the shortcomings of empathy, neglecting the considerable shortcomings of rationality. Rationality has a strong tendency to be neatly reductionist and cleverly self-serving. It is prone to mistaking its maps for the territories they describe. It too often asserts that it operates objectively, independent of values and biases, when closer examination reveals it to be rife with values and assumptions that just happen to be invisible to its supposedly detached practitioners.

 2013-07-29- Empathy as a choice by Jamil Zaki
Jamil Zaki is an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University, studying the cognitive and neural bases of social cognition and behavior

"Paul Bloom recently argued that empathy is a bad guide for decision-making, precisely because it is a slave to triggers such as images of others’ suffering.  On Bloom’s reasoning, this means that empathy will often drive irrational choices based on emotions: for instance, helping a single suffering child we see on television while ignoring countless others who receive less press.  Although Bloom is right in many cases, if empathy is a choice, then people can presumably learn to use it when they know it is most important.  For instance, people could decide to “turn up” empathy for victims with whom they might not immediately connect (a suggestion made earlier by Daryl Cameron as well).  Broadly speaking, empathy we can control is empathy we can co-opt to help others as much as possible."

The Case Against Empathy - an email discussion with Paul Bloom  by Janet

Paul Bloom "....I'm not entirely against empathy -- as I mention at the end of the article, I think it's essential for intimate relationships....

...I agree that empathy has driven people to do wonderful things. But, as I discuss in my article, it has also motivated terrible things, such as savage punishments that are driven by empathy for victims. See also here, 2nd paragraph:
...My argument is that empathy is often inadequate for policy decisions. You simply can't emphasize with a billion people; or with people who don't yet exist; empathy is insensitive to number and it's statistically stupid. ... I'm calling for people to use other moral faculties instead, such as self-control, perspective taking, rational deliberation, notions of fairness, justice, and impartiality, and conceptions of human rights. ..
I think empathy can be very useful for certain more "local" problems,"

2013-05-14 - What Do We Do When We Run Out of Empathy?
Sarah Ngu
- graduated from Columbia

"Bloom is on the right track when he calls for moral resources other than empathy, for it tends to be fickle and unstable. Turning inward, he identifies “reason” as a better resource. The moral life is essentially a struggle to bring the passions under the guidance of reason. And if we turn outward, we may find that “relational duty,” one cultivated in spaces of tight proximity, is a fruitful avenue for doing that.

The Case Against Empathy - an email discussion with Paul Bloom

"I was upset because the article seemed to be trying to encourage people not to use empathy. The article called empathy "narrow-minded", and a poor choice to use when making decisions. I confronted him about each of these ideas."   Janet

2013-05-19 - The Case Against Empathy

Orion Jones -

"The concept of empathy—putting yourself into another's shoes—has fueled political and moral thinking of late, inspiring presidents and academics to hail the feeling of another's pain as necessary to curing the world's ills. Crucial to empathy is "victim identification", by which we come to know the human face of tragedy. As a result, we are far more likely to give donations to a person whose picture we see on the news than seek solutions for systemic problems, such as underfunded hospitals, that affect the lives of far more individuals. In other words, empathy can result in the sacrificing of the many for the one. "

2011-10-13 - Beyond the Limits of Empathy  (Response to David Brooks Article)
by Miki Kashtan

 "Can empathy serve as a reliable guide to action? David Brooks, in his recent article "The Limits of Empathy," suggests that empathy is no guarantee that caring action will take place. Participants in Milgram's famous 1950s experiments willingly inflicted what they thought were near-lethal electric shocks despite suffering tremendously. Nazi executors early in the war wept while killing Jews. And yet those strong feelings didn't stop them. Why does this happen? "