... too highbrow to be a self-help or parenting manual, but parts of it could be. Its wingspan is too wide to be a simple guide to philanthropy, but parts of it could be that as well. And it’s a bit too clotted with caveats to be a seamless read, which is a shame, because it could have been, with more shaping ... Look past the book’s occasional loop-the-loops and intellectual fillips. Against Empathy is an invigorating, relevant and often very funny re-evaluation of empathy ... he is by no means making the case for heartlessness. His point, rather, is that empathy is untempered by reason, emanating from the murky bayou of the gut. He prefers a kind of rational compassion — a mixture of caring and detached cost-benefit analysis. His book is a systematic attempt to show why this is so ... More than any book I’ve read this year, Against Empathy is an overt, joyful conversation with readers.
...indictments against empathy are announced in the opening pages and repeated often in the pages that follow, as if out of concern that readers, like jurors, might forget the bill of particulars. More likely, this repetitiveness reflects the book’s origins. Bloom mentions having 'published articles in popular outlets describing earlier versions of these ideas' — outlets including the New Yorker, the Atlantic and the New York Times. Had the overlapping material from those articles been edited out, and had key claims against empathy been examined in greater depth, this would have been a leaner and more cogent book ... we also draw on the evolutionary legacy that Bloom believes we would be better off without: our ability to feel what others feel. That ability is more capacious than he suggests.
Much of Bloom’s vehemence stems from the very narrow way he defines empathy as being distinct from compassion or sympathy, even if most people think of these as synonymous ... He sees empathy as only occurring in those moments when we feel exactly as the other person. This leads him to bizarre conclusions ... Unless you share Bloom’s unnecessarily narrow sense of what empathy entails, there’s nothing to say it can only be directed toward one person, rather than whole groups of people. I do, however, agree with Bloom when he argues that one can do good, and derive a moral code, without empathy, through the exercise of pure logic.
...a deliberately maverick work – astringent, provocative, often witty and unabashedly against a prevailing culture that places so high a premium on the virtue of empathy ... his trenchant stand against empathy is an attempt to encourage us to think more accurately and more effectively about our relationship to our moral terms. He pins his colours to the mast of rational compassion rather than empathy, and it is a central tenet of the book’s argument – I think a correct one – that there exists a confusion in people’s minds about the meaning of the two terms ... I am staunchly with Bloom here: it is undoubtedly a valuable gift, but only provided it is fortified by a prior rational moral position and appropriately judged action.
'Empathy' is a capacious term, but Bloom limits his inquiry to the sense of 'coming to experience the world as you think someone else does'...But if you’re looking, as Bloom is, for a fair and objective basis for an ethical life, you’d better look elsewhere ... Some of Bloom’s examples miss the point of moral action, or might better go by other names ... Bloom is so keen to reason empathy away, to prove that it doesn’t work, that he misses what is most interesting: the desires it expresses.
It is fine and good to argue for a greater emphasis on reason in moral decision-makingbut one wonders whether it is really fair to assail empathy as ferociously as Mr. Bloom does ... And there is something downright bizarre about Mr. Bloom’s insistence that 'we should aspire to a world in which a politician appealing to someone’s empathy would be seen in the same way as one appealing to people’s racist bias' ... Empathy can indeed limit and distort our moral vision, but Mr. Bloom fails to seriously engage with the fact that reason can also be marshaled for nefarious ends.
Against Empathy sounds iconoclastic but, like so many books with sweeping titles, two pages in the reader discovers that a much more qualified claim is being made. Bloom admits in the prologue that the book might have been called Against the Misapplication of Empathy or Empathy Is Not Everything. He gives a rational defence of his bolder choice but surely the marketing case was stronger ... Bloom takes more care to distinguish the forms of empathy and how they differ from other types of kindness and comprehension...Having narrowed his target, Bloom further limits his fire by accepting that empathy might be good in many contexts, such as art appreciation ... Bloom is surely right that empathy is alone is not enough. However, I’m less convinced that we’d be better off without it ... Nor is it as 'self-evident' as Bloom claims that morality should be objective and fair, if that means taking a God’s-eye view and treating everyone equally. To make no distinction between family or loved ones and the rest of the world is not so much moral as inhuman.