Empathy as a Moral Concept: Comments on John Deigh's "Empathy, Justice, and Jurisprudence"

Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (s1):91-98 (2011)
Abstract
In these brief comments, I explore some ambiguities concerning John Deigh's notion of empathy in relation to morality and justice. First, does Deigh conceive of empathy as a morally neutral capacity that can be used for good or bad purposes or, rather, as a capacity that presupposes a moral orientation? I look to his previous work and find evidence supporting both readings. I suggest that the right way to understand empathy is as a moral notion. Empathy is the product of an activity—the activity of empathizing. This activity in turn presupposes a certain moral orientation: one that involves placing a certain kind of value on others. I then ask whether Deigh equates empathy with the sense of justice. I do not believe he does, but still he does not say much about the relation between them. I suggest that while the two are not the same, and while there can be tension between them, they ultimately stem from the same basic moral orientation, one that at least vaguely resembles the morality of cooperation.
Keywords empathy
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