Morton defines empathy as the “emotional and imaginative capacities to the task to understand others” (318). This definition is used to examine what he refers to as a limitation of empathy which he defines as the “Blinkering effect of Decency” (329). This limitation is a barrier most “morally sensitive” individuals face as they try and empathize with people who commit atrocious acts (Morton, 318). Though we can imagine the factors that got an individual to do an atrocious act Morton argues that, “there are deep obstacles to the kind of sympathetic identification required for empathy” (321). Furthermore, Morton claims that “barriers affect our imagination of choice, so inhibits us from making nasty choices vivid” (321). This claim gives me the understanding that this limitation is more of a choice not to accurately empathize with people who commit these acts. Because of this one is made to wonder if the Blinkering effect of decency is really a limitation of empathy. I fail to see the Blinkering Effect of Decency as a limitation, due to the fact that it has to do with a choice on the part of the empathizer it should not be categorized as a limitation.
Another consideration to keep in mind when looking at Morton’s argument is the fact that the blinkering effect is not absolute. The blinkering effect cannot be boiled down to an absolute phenomenon nor can it be universal, rather this based on an individual. Consequently, I would like to make the claim that the blinkering effect is not necessarily a limitation but rather the blinkering effect allows us to personally engage in “moral deliberation” increasing the effectiveness of our empathy (IEMD, Stueber). Therefore, I would like to consider the possibility that it is not the case that we cannot empathize with these individuals but rather we choose not to after careful consideration. Therefore The Blinkering effect of Decency or Moral Deliberation could be perceived as a tool that fosters accurate empathy.
According to Stueber’s article, Imagination, Empathy and Moral Deliberation “imaginative resistance” or the blinkering effect “reveals something about the very nature of our humanity that is constituted by the interplay of our capacities for empathy, imagination, and moral reason” (IEMD). The blinkering effect is more than just our inability to imagine certain situations but it also involves moral deliberation. Moral deliberation allows one to consider why the atrocious act was done and whether or not it was reasonable. Our imagination is extremely powerful, which is why I do not believe it is a source of limitation. Take for instance the use of the imaginative power in literature interpretation, we are able to use our imagination to empathize with fictional characters like Macbeth who commit atrocious acts (IEMD, Stuber). It is more than our inability to imagine that restricts our empathy, but more a result of critical thinking and choice. In the case of Macbeth, I would like to believe that the blinkering effect was at play, we considered the barriers Macbeth had to face and yet still we choose to empathize with him. In this example we can see how The Blinkering Effect resulted in accurate empathy from the audience.
We need to come to terms with the fact that not ever atrocious act is deserving of our empathy and through the blinkering effect we are able to filter out those that we consider worthy of our empathy, therefore increasing the accuracy of our empathy. Moral deliberation gives us “the capacity to determine whether harm is reasonable or unreasonable” (IEMD, Stueber). The blinkering effect comes as a result of us engaging with scenarios on a level that allows for reflection which ultimately leads to greater accuracy in empathy.
Morton’s argument is one I agree with only to a certain extent. I concur that The Blinkering Effect has an influence on our empathy however I would not go as far as labeling that effect as a restriction to empathy. Stueber states that The Blinkering Effect or Imaginative Resistance is “a stage that we reach when we stop merely trying to understand another person’s perspective and start reflecting critically on that perspective” (IEMD). Something to examine after viewing Morton’s argument is whether or not we are required to empathize with every perpetrator of atrocious acts? His argument is presented in a way that could be interpreted as a claim that it is only our limited imagination that limits our empathy, as though every individual is deserving of our empathy and the only thing standing in our way is our imagination. Empathy is an important emotion however it cannot be applied in every situation.
Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print
Stueber, Karsten R. “Imagination, Empathy, and Moral Deliberation: The Case of Imaginative Resistance.” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 49 (2011): 156-80. Web.