I believe that Morton’s view of empathy is slightly off, if not incorrect. The way he describes the
way people try to react and relate to the people that have committed an atrocity sounds more like the
definition of sympathy rather than empathy. For example, in the abused wife scenario Morton
describes, he states that “we can represent to ourselves an emotion that is directed along the axes of
her situation and that gives us some grasp, not of why she made a choice that rid her of a great menace,
but of how she was able to make it” (320). In the case of empathy that Morton presents, he believes
that you can empathize with the wife by attempting to feel the same emotions that she felt. Now this
has no prerequisite that you, the viewer, have experienced these events or similar yourself, yet he still
calls it empathy. In order to be able to empathize with another person, you yourself must have
experienced a similar situation or event. This allows you to apply the feelings and thoughts that you
remember from your event to aid and relate to another.
However, the main focus of empathy is to help another with a certain situation. In Baston, Fultz,
and Schoenrade’s scholarly article, they write that “seeing someone in distress may cause one distress,
and a person may act to relieve the other’s distress as an instrumental means to reach the ultimate goal
or relieving his or her own distress” (22). The view of empathy taken upon by this text is dramatically
different from that of Morton. As he presents numerous different definitions, each one essentially deals
with two people, one that has done an “atrocity”, and the other who is trying to empathize with the
first. One example Morton uses in the text is of an abusive marriage. Now, the wife is “prepared to kill…
She is not a violent person; she takes killing to be forbidden; and once she loved this man. But after a
few seconds of indecision that feel like hours, she shoots” (Morton 320). Morton then proceeds to say
that “we can represent to ourselves an emotion that is directed along the axes of her situation and that
gives us some grasp, not of why she made a choice that rid her of a great menace, but of how she was
able to make it” (Morton 320). This, to me is not empathy, but rather sympathy. In this scenario, there is
no real feeling derived from an experience. Rather, a perceived emotion that is able to loosely connect
the onlooker to the “victim”.
According to the views Baston, Fultz, and Schoenrade, this is not empathy at all. In their text
they claim that empathy is driven by altruistic motivation to help. If the observer is distressed due to the
onlooking of an event, the observer will do one of two things. Either escape, or empathize. Their studies
show that when escape is the easier of the two to achieve, the observer will often do lean towards
escape in the interest of themselves. Morton describes empathy as envisioning another’s motives,
rather than their feelings or emotions. If the main definition of empathy in Morton’s essay is incorrect,
then the we cannot “empathize with the devil” at all, rather sympathize with the devil.
Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print.
Baston, C.D., Fultz J., & Schoenrade, P. A. (1987) ‘Distress and Empathy: Two Qualitatively Distinct Vicarious Emotions with Different Motivational Consequences’,Journal of Personality 55: 19-39.