Bioethics Blogs

Web Roundup: Empathy in the news by Jane Roberts

The capacity of individuals to imagine another’s perspective or personal agenda, and our own ability to feel anger, despondency or frustration in response to their pain and distress, has been singled out as something to consider in multiple stories and studies found on the web this month. Is empathy a choice, or something less conscious? Is it always a good thing, or do some situations challenge our empathetic nature? This month’s roundup highlights pieces found around the web in which this question is tackled.

Empathy is normally thought of as being a positive quality to have, however a few stories this month challenge that assumption. The notion of empathy as an unfashionable political emotion is the subject of an article examining recent government policies surrounding cuts to benefits for destitute asylum seekers in the UK, which the article argues ignores the human cost in favor of perpetuating a particular ideology and fiscal responsibilities before the individual lives affected by these policies. This sentiment rings true when thinking about the rise in inequality and its threat to empathy as well, where the less interaction one has with someone unlike themselves, the less empathy one tends to have for them. This is the focus of a piece focusing on the link between empathy and trust, and the need for empathy to ensure the smooth running of a society. The article suggests that the less trust and empathy among a citizenry, the more measures such as policing, regulation and other external enforcements are relied upon. Such propositions highlight a well-researched effect of empathy, in which individuals feel more empathetic to those similar to themselves, thus exacerbating already existing social inequalities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.