Zygon 52 (1):258-278 (2017)

This article poses a challenge to contemporary theories in psychology that portray empathy as a negative force in the moral life. Instead, drawing on alternative psychological and philosophical literature, especially Martha Nussbaum, I argue that empathy is related to the virtue of compassion and therefore crucial for moral action. Evidence for evolutionary anthropological accounts of compassion in early hominins provides additional arguments for its positive value in deep human history. I discuss this work alongside Thomistic notions of practical wisdom, compassion, misericordia, and the importance of reason in the moral life. The tension between “bottom up” accounts of empathy and that according to a theological interpretation of “infused” virtues also needs to be addressed. From a secular perspective, infused virtue is a projection of the ideal moral life, but from a theological perspective, it is a way of understanding how human capacities through the action of grace can reach beyond what seem to be the limits of psychological moral identity.
Keywords practical wisdom prudence  evolutionary anthropology  infused virtue  misericordia  moral psychology  compassion  Martha Nussbaum  empathy
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/zygo.12317
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 71,489
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Upheavals of Thought. The Intelligence of Emotions.Martha C. Nussbaum - 2003 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 65 (1):174-175.
The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics.Martha C. Nussbaum - 1996 - Zeitschrift für Philosophische Forschung 50 (4):646-650.
How Empathy Became a Brain Function A Neurophilosophical Case Study.Stephan Schleim - 2015 - Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences 2 (1):41.

View all 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Compassion and Beyond.Roger Crisp - 2008 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (3):233-246.
The Desired Moral Attitude of the Physician: (I) Empathy. [REVIEW]Petra Gelhaus - 2012 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 15 (2):103-113.
In Defense of the Moral Significance of Empathy.Aaron Simmons - 2014 - Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 17 (1):97-111.
The Desired Moral Attitude of the Physician: (II) Compassion. [REVIEW]Petra Gelhaus - 2012 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 15 (4):397-410.
Pity and Compassion as Social Virtues.Brian Carr - 1999 - Philosophy 74 (3):411-429.
A Remedy Called Empathy: The Neglected Element of Human Rights Theory.Frederik von Harbou - 2013 - Archiv für Rechts- Und Sozialphilosophie 99 (2):133-151.
Empathy and Its Role in Morality.Meghan Masto - 2015 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 53 (1):74-96.


Added to PP index

Total views
57 ( #201,697 of 2,520,856 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #405,457 of 2,520,856 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes