4 Star Book Reviews: Against Empathy

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom

Ah, what a breath of fresh air. This is a book about how to be good. Is empathy (that is, feeling the emotions of the person you’re trying to help) a good way to be more moral? Bloom makes the convincing case that it is not.

There’s a lot of good data here, as well as thoughtful analysis. For me, it was comforting to see some of my own feelings put into words. People eviscerate themselves with the emotions of others, and what good does that do? It’s better to stand back at consider how to help those in need.

I also enjoyed the part at the end where the author talks about his own experiments with the environmental factors that affect our choices and perceptions. Yes, all sorts of silly things, from the smells present in the room to what we had for breakfast that day to how words rhyme, push our actions one direction or another. But the fact that we can point to such interference and call it “silly” means we are capable of rational thought after all. That’s comforting to know.

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