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Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion
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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.

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Street Date:
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Language:
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9780062339355
ASIN:
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APA Citation (style guide)

Paul Bloom. (2016). Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. HarperCollins.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Paul Bloom. 2016. Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. HarperCollins.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. HarperCollins, 2016.

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Paul Bloom. Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. HarperCollins, 2016. Web.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2010. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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        Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at the 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 Against Empathy, Just Babies, How Pleasure Works, Descartes' Baby, and, most recently, The Sweet Spot.

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shortDescription

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...

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title
Against Empathy
fullDescription

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.

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reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: New York Times
      • content:

        "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

        "Cleverly contrarian..." — New York Post

        "A lucidly argued tract about the hazards of good intentions." — Vox

        "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." — Nature

        "Refreshing." — 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." — Kirkus

        "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...

      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        September 19, 2016
        Psychologist Bloom (Just Babies) makes the provocative argument that empathy is not the vital catalyst for human morality it is thought to be, and that the impulse toward empathetic feelings should, in fact, be suppressed. The argument centers on empathetic bias, where people favor those they can more easily relate to, which in Bloom’s analysis leads to “parochialism and racism.” Furthermore, empathy often gets hijacked by individual political
        persuasions, and its “spotlight” focus can bypass rational thought, ignoring important context. Bloom takes aim at scientific claims about “mirror neurons” supposedly linked to empathetic thought, and at the use of empathy-measuring scales in
        laboratory settings. He also points out the misery that occurs for those who experience empathy too deeply. Bloom’s solution is a morality based on “self-control,” “intelligence,” and “diffuse compassion,” an innate kindness that exists in people
        independent of empathy. Not surprisingly, his prescriptions don’t quite convince. His political arguments are obtuse. His assertion that moral feelings about issues like global warming exist without
        immediate victims to empathize with is only true if one does not take into account caring for one’s children’s futures. Still, there is something here. While Bloom may not entirely vanquish empathy, he makes a powerful appeal for a more reasonable and responsible deployment of it. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        October 15, 2016
        The potential of empathy to lead to cruelty prompts Bloom (Psychology/Yale Univ.; Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, 2013, etc.) to promote the function of compassion, which is informed by rational deliberation.The author distinguishes between sentimental and cognitive empathy. Without the reasoning power of the latter, impulsiveness is subject to self-deception and manipulation. Sentimental empathy is narrow, Bloom writes, "like a spotlight," introducing bias, distortion, and/or worse. Most people are unable to truly empathize with more than one or two others at a time. Cognitive empathy enables the understanding of "what's going on in other people's heads." A single case--e.g., the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut--evokes a much stronger response than the daily murders of teenagers in inner cities around the country. We should empathize with all these people, and the billions more around the world in need, "but we can't." As the author shows, we need our cognitive capabilities to truly value their lives. Bloom's argument takes in many elements of modern neuroscience and psychology in distinguishing among various mental frameworks. Neuroscience has also been used to test how empathy can distort our responses and judgments. For example, we react differently when asked to think "objectively" or from the standpoint of our feelings in considering whether terminally ill children should be moved up a waiting list for treatment or not. In this situation, by ignoring the whole picture, empathy may be both cruel and unjust. Thankfully, "we can engage in reasoning, including moral reasoning, that is more abstract." While reason can be subject to bias and distortion, as well, we still shouldn't belittle our rational capabilities as impotent or insignificant. People, writes Bloom, are "not as stupid as many scholars think we are."An intriguing counterattack to modern psychological cynicism.

        COPYRIGHT(2016) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        October 15, 2016

        Bloom (Brooks & Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology & Cognitive Science, Yale Univ.; Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil) continues his investigations into the nature of morality. In first focusing on the definition of empathy as a narrow personal and emotional response, a "spotlight" effect results, which makes the qualities of empathy less effective in creating change than other human qualities. Bloom maintains that instead of requiring empathy in both national policy and personal decisions, an Enlightenment view would be much more effective. Invoking Adam Smith and the Dalai Lama, he emphasizes that the human capacity for self-control, intelligence, and compassion are much better internal guides for people and groups than mere empathy. Feeling empathy, Bloom suggests, does not help us learn to assess critically our own limitations in order to make the best decisions. VERDICT This refreshing, well-structured polemic against fatuousness and sloppy thinking is recommended for advanced general and social sciences readers.--Kellie Benson, Oakton Community Coll. Libs., Des Plaines, IL

        Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

subtitle
The Case for Rational Compassion
popularity
535
publisher
HarperCollins
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