Dai Zhen on Sympathetic Concern

Journal of Chinese Philosophy 37 (1):76-89 (2010)
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Abstract

I argue that Dai Zhen’s account of sympathetic concern is distinguished from other accounts of sympathy (and empathy) by several features, the most important of which are the following: First, he sees the awareness of our similarities to others as a necessary condition for sympathy but not a constituent of it. Second, the relevant similarities are those that are grounded in our common status as living creatures, and not in our common powers of autonomy or other traits that are often taken to be distinguishing features of persons. Finally, Dai thinks that when we properly sympathize with others, we value their well-being in a way that mimics the way we value our own. This last feature helps to explain two important claims about the place of sympathy in moral action: that it necessarily requires perspective-taking (at least with respect to most other human beings), and that it provides indirect motives to be virtuous, which even imperfect moral agents can draw upon. In the course of making my argument, I identify salient differences between Dai’s variant of sympathy and some of its closest relatives, including Aristotelian pity and Buddhist compassion.

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Justin Tiwald
University of Hong Kong

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