Compassion

Philosophy in the Contemporary World 8 (1):1-6 (2001)
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Abstract

The following three papers focus on compassion, an issue well worth our consideration in our contemporary age, and most especially during our recent national tragedy. It is hoped that these philosophical discussions of compassion may help us as we, on personal and societal levels, come to grips with immense human suffering. The topic of compassion brings us into an exploration of a cluster of related philosophical issues and is thus a good stepping off point for inquiry. The role of the first paper is that of stage setting, to simply layout an approach to compassion presented by Aristotle and developed by Martha Nussbaum. This approach served as the introductory consideration in a course on compassion, taught by the first two commentators. Initially we wondered if we could sustain discussion on this narrow topic over fourteen weeks, but found the course left students with numerous questions worth their further consideration. So too in these papers, a number of issues will remain untouched, such as the relation of compassion and public policy and specific approaches to the cultivating of compassion, both of which are explored at length by Martha Nussbaum. This first paper frames our discussion, by presenting in outline form key points addressed in Martha Nussbaum’s Aristotelian discussion of the emotion of compassion, and touches upon issues developed in the next two papers.

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