Empathy and the Evolution of Compassion: From Deep History to Infused Virtue

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 th...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Zygon
Subtitles:Is empathy immoral?
Main Author: Deane-Drummond, Celia
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: [2017]
In:Zygon
Year: 2017, Volume: 52, Issue: 1, Pages: 258-278
Standardized Subjects / Keyword chains:B Empathy / Sympathy
Further subjects:B Martha Nussbaum
B infused virtue
B Evolutionary Anthropology
B Misericordia
B Compassion
B Empathy
B practical wisdom prudence
B Moral Psychology
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Summary: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.
ISSN:1467-9744
Contains:Enthalten in: Zygon
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Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1111/zygo.12317