Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 24 (2):459-473 (2021)

Hannah Read
Tufts University
Critics of empathy—the capacity to share the mental lives of others—have charged that empathy is intrinsically biased. It occurs between no more than two people, and its key function is arguably to coordinate and align feelings, thoughts, and responses between those who are often already in close personal relationships. Because of this, critics claim that empathy is morally unnecessary at best and morally harmful at worst. This paper argues, however, that it is precisely because of its ability to connect people by coordinating and aligning their feelings, thoughts, and responses, that empathy is especially well suited to perform one particular moral task that has been largely overlooked in moral philosophical discussions. That is, helping people, including those who are antagonistically opposed on matters of moral, social, and political importance—what I call antagonistic moral opponents—find common ground: a set of shared beliefs, attitudes, values, or experiences that lays the requisite ground for even minimally positive relationships. Doing so can contribute to a number of morally, practically, and epistemically important outcomes, including resolving fraught disagreements, mitigating antagonism, promoting cooperation, learning from differences, and even forging positive relationships of various sorts. Contra critics, I therefore maintain that empathy is important for at least one area of the moral life.
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DOI 10.1007/s10677-021-10178-4
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Echo Chambers and Epistemic Bubbles.C. Thi Nguyen - 2020 - Episteme 17 (2):141-161.
Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.Kate Manne - 2017 - Oxford University Press.
Common Ground.Robert C. Stalnaker - 2002 - Linguistics and Philosophy 25 (5-6):701-721.

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