Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Empathy, Moral Judgment, and Utilitarianism

There is more evidence that empathy plays a key role in making non-utilitarian moral judgments. This would seem to have two implications. One is that the more empathy one has, the lower one's utilitarian judgment, which may explain some aspects of libertarian vs. non-libertarian moral judgments, with libertarians tending to be more economically-literate utilitarians. (On the other side is Peter Singer's leftist utilitarianism -- with all the (in)famous conclusions that stem from it, which all become abundantly clear once you see how low in empathy he must be to be a utilitarian.) But it also explains why those who read a great deal of literature tend toward less utilitarian conclusions, even faced with economic facts.

I have argued that we should read more literature to become more empathetic to become more moral. It may seem odd, then, for a libertarian like myself to argue we need to read more literature. The above would seem to argue against reading literature and for reading economics books. However, as useful as utilitarianism is in economics, it's pretty much useless for face-to-face morality. How I should treat other people is not a utilitarian calculation. It's a moral judgment. And the more literature we read, the more kinds of people we learn to empathize with, and the better our moral judgments. We need both to live in the complex civil society in which we live.
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