Empathy, Motive and Morality: An Enquiry into the Role of Empathy in Ethics

UoM administered thesis: Phd

  • Authors:
  • Gayle Impey

Abstract

The thesis argues that two ways in which we can consider empathy's role in ethics are fundamentally flawed because they fail to take into account the myriad ways in which empathy can be affected and influenced by our motivations. I apply what I call 'the motivation objection' to these two views. This has three aspects: (1) reliability: because empathy can be affected and influenced by our motivations, empathizing does not always lead to the right results; (2) function: because it can be affected and influenced by our motivations, empathy is not sufficient for various functions; (3) circularity: because it can be affected and influenced by our motivations, empathy cannot be used to define or explain certain aspects of morality in a non-circular way. The two ways of considering empathy's role in ethics are what I call constitutive views, according to which empathy in some way constitutes, or is the foundation for, morality, and instrumental views, according to which empathy is of instrumental value in morality. I apply the motivation objection to three constitutive views, two historical and one contemporary, each of which is a sentimentalist theory of morality with empathy (or sympathy, in the case of the historical theories) at its heart. These are the sentimentalist moral theories of David Hume, Adam Smith and Michael Slote. I then apply the motivation objection to instrumental views of empathy's role in ethics, before defending one particular instrumental view, according to which empathy can play a positive role in morality when integrated with virtue, and the virtue of compassion in particular.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Advisors
Award date1 Aug 2012