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Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion (Paperback)
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New York Post Best Book of 2016
We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don’t have enough of it.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, argues Yale researcher Paul Bloom. In AGAINST EMPATHY, Bloom reveals empathy to be one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it, but to draw instead upon a more distanced compassion.
Basing his argument on groundbreaking scientific findings, Bloom makes the case that some of the worst decisions made by individuals and nations—who to give money to, when to go to war, how to respond to climate change, and who to imprison—are too often motivated by honest, yet misplaced, emotions. With precision and wit, he demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the justice system; from medical care and education to parenting and marriage. Without empathy, Bloom insists, our decisions would be clearer, fairer, and—yes—ultimately more moral.
Brilliantly argued, urgent and humane, AGAINST EMPATHY shows us that, when it comes to both major policy decisions and the choices we make in our everyday lives, limiting our impulse toward empathy is often the most compassionate choice we can make.
About the Author
Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at University of Toronto, and the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Yale University. His research explores the psychology of morality, identity, and pleasure. Bloom is the recipient of multiple awards and honors, including, most recently, the million-dollar Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize. He has written for scientific journals such as Nature and Science, and for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly. He is the author or editor of eight books, including Just Babies, How Pleasure Works, Descartes’ Baby, and, most recently, Against Empathy.
“An invigorating, relevant and often very funny re-evaluation of empathy, one of our culture’s most ubiquitous sacred cows, which in Mr. Bloom’s view should be gently led to the abattoir.”
— New York Times
“Provocative . . . In a time of post-truth politics, his book offers a much-needed call for facts.”
— The Economist
— New York Post
“A lucidly argued tract about the hazards of good intentions.”
“Like a tough-to-crack case against an idea that most of us have long known is key to repairing the world… will legitimately change how you think about the world and your own sense of morality.”
— New York Magazine
“Mr. Bloom is undoubtedly right that empathy alone makes for bad policy: While it can motivate us to care, we need reason to help us design and implement policies aimed at reducing suffering.”
— Wall Street Journal
“A nuanced foray into some fraught grey areas.”
— Library Journal
“Provocative… and powerful.”
— Publishers Weekly
“Bloom’s more positive view of the role of reason fits with what I take to be the correct understanding of ethics.”
— Project Syndicate
“An intriguing counterattack to modern psychological cynicism.”
“Bloom challenges one of our most cherished assumptions about what it takes to be good. With elegance and humor, Bloom reveals just how flawed that assumption is, and offers a new vision of a moral life-one based on how our minds actually work.”
— Carl Zimmer, author of Evolution: Making Sense of Life
“Bloom’s analysis is penetrating, comprehensive, and timely. Against Empathy is destined to become a classic in psychology.”
— Michael Shermer, Publisher Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist Scientific American, and author of The Moral Arc and The Science of Good and Evil
“Despite a near consensus about its merits, Bloom shows that empathy is often just the warm embrace of prejudice-and, like anger, a reliable source of moral confusion. . . . a thrilling book, and reading it could well make you a better person.”
— Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith, The Moral Landscape, and Waking Up
“I couldn’t put this brilliantly argued book down.”
— Amy Chua, Yale Law Professor and author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and The Triple Package
“A brilliant, witty, and convincing defense of rational generosity against its pain-feeling detractors. Read this book and you will never think about empathy, goodness, or cold-blooded reason the same way again.”-
— Larissa MacFarquhar, author of Strangers Drowning: Grappling with Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help
“Brilliant, powerful, and provocative, Against Empathy is sure to be one of the most controversial books of our time.”
— Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
“One of the most thought-provoking and convincing books I’ve read. Bloom’s logic is compelling, his prose fluid, and his deep humanity and compassion always evident. A must-read for those who want an alternative to a world where emotional gambits reign supreme--for better and often, for worse.”
— Maria Konnivkova, author of The Confidence Game
“The title may shock, but this is a book of calm reason and expansive compassion. It’s also a pleasure to read: warm, lucid, and thought-provoking.”
— Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of The Better Angels of Our Nature
“Bracing and provocative, Against Empathy takes a scalpel to empathy. This lucid and entertaining book argues there is a better way - that our capacity for reason, tempered with compassion, will make us better policy makers and better people.”
— Emily Yoffe, author of What the Dog Did