Empathy's purity, sympathy's complexities; De Waal, Darwin and Adam Smith

Biology and Philosophy 26 (4):583-593 (2011)
Frans de Waal’s view that empathy is at the basis of morality directly seems to build on Darwin, who considered sympathy as the crucial instinct. Yet when we look closer, their understanding of the central social instinct differs considerably. De Waal sees our deeply ingrained tendency to sympathize (or rather: empathize) with others as the good side of our morally dualistic nature. For Darwin, sympathizing was not the whole story of the workings of sympathy ; the (selfish) need to receive sympathy played just as central a role in the complex roads from sympathy to morality. Darwin’s understanding of sympathy stems from Adam Smith, who argued that the presence of morally impure motives should not be a reason for cynicism about morality. I suggest that De Waal’s approach could benefit from a more thorough alignment with the analysis of the workings of sympathy in the work of Darwin and Adam Smith
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-011-9248-4
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Edward O. Wilson (1976). Sociobiology. Philosophy of Science 43 (2):305-306.

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