Blog 4: If You Can Dream It, You Can Achieve It

The main focus of Adam Morton’s essay, Empathy for the Devil, is the inability to empathize with people who commit atrocities. This stems from the inherent barriers faced when attempting to understand and feel with someone who is committing a crime or act with which we would never normally condone. It is typically easier to understand the why of an atrocious act, and the motives behind it, than it is to understand how someone was able to break ethical standards. This returns to the barriers, which create pseudo-empathy rather than genuine empathy. One can imagine what another may be feeling, but cannot actually experience the emotions and motivations themselves, making it less accurate than the true emotion. However, in the fictional world, Morton emphasizes that we can empathize with fictional characters that commit atrocious acts since they are not real. Morton uses the evidence of Smith to show that we tend to empathize with only emotions we like or approve of, rather than all that we may feel if we were really in that situation. He continues with Hume, who clarifies that it is not that “we cannot sympathize with wrongdoers, but that we have difficulty imagining that what is wrong is right” (324). Morton concludes with the idea that in today’s society, we tend to exaggerate our ability to empathize accurately with those we “should’ empathize with, and suppress our ability to empathize with those who commit atrocities.

Morton highlights in a small section this idea of empathizing with fiction. He explains that this empathy is possible in part because an author works their writing to favor a fictional character that commits an atrocity so a reader understands the motivation, so we more easily understand the why of the action. The character is supposed to be, to an extent, relatable so the distance between the public audience and the fictional character appears to be lessened. The empathy is also possible because we know this to be unrealistic, therefore it is easier to understand the act when we believe it wouldn’t occur in the real world. However, I disagree that these fictional characters are so easy to empathize with. Morton uses an example of characters living in a society where rape is casual or babies are eaten to start off his use of Hume’s argument (324). james bondFor someone in the real world, atrocities are extremely difficult to empathize with regardless of whether or not the character is “relatable” or if it seems “realistic”. For example, in many action films and comics, the protagonist is frequently portrayed as a big hero, they capture the bad guy, save the world, and rescue the female lead. Because this is something many people in the real world aspire to be – a “hero” – they feel as if they can relate to him more, even as they watch him beat up and kill all of the security guards and side kicks that try to stop him. In the real world, this would certainly be considered an atrocity and the man would face severe repercussions. But because this seems so unrealistic, and this character is someone that is idolized, empathy goes forgotten. We hold no empathy for the men that are murdered because they are typically side characters, people so insignificant that we feel no sympathy that they are dead. Their families are not considered, their lives are not considered, we just know that they are “bad” so empathy is not present. The research study entitled “Some Like It Bad:…” discusses empathy for negatively portrayed fictional characters, and how some people genuinely identify better with “bad characters” (Konijn and Hoorn, 5).superman The “good” characters may have the good intentions, but their actions can also be atrocious at times. Looking at it realistically, the villains of films typically do less damage than the actual hero does. Konijn and Hoorn reflect this in their research, because when people recognize that the bad characters are not so bad, it becomes easier to empathize with them. When it is brought to awareness that good characters are not so pure, it becomes harder to relate to them. Once empathy is taken into account and it’s possible that these heroic acts were actually quite atrocious, it seems much harder to relate to the main character and empathize with them. Therefore, in disagreement with Morton, when both the how and why of a fictional atrocious act is easily understood, the realistic effects of this act and its huge negative impact are lost in the fictional world.

This changes the view of Morton’s argument slightly, because he uses this as a counterargument that sometimes empathy can be felt for bad people, but even at this point, it is not relatable enough for an audience to empathize with someone who commits an atrocious act, even if it is not real.

Works Cited:

Charlton, Corey. “Which Bond Is REALLY the Baddest?” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 28 Oct. 2015. Web. 08 Nov. 2016.
Konijn, Elly A., and Johan F. Hoorn. “Some Like It Bad: Testing a Model for Perceiving and Experiencing Fictional Characters.” Media Psychology 7.2 (2005): 107-44. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press 318, 2011.

“Why Does a Superhero Hesitate to Kill a Villain?” Quora. N.p., 5 Apr. 2015. Web. 8 Nov. 2016.

Empathy’s Many Masters: Why Her and Not Him?

Adam Morton’s essay “Empathy for the Devil” speaks to the presence of a barrier that appears within decent people when they attempt to empathize with someone who has committed an atrocious act. The idea is—in order to achieve empathic understanding, we must first breakthrough the barrier preventing us from doing so. He believes there are three distinct dimensions that need to be understood in order to achieve a level of understanding necessary to feel empathy accurately. These dimensions are: discovering what the barrier is, the attitude towards overcoming it, and “the nature of the emotion or motivation that facilitates the process” (327). On the surface, Morton’s reasoning is hard to contend with. Especially because I agree that there are obstacles that need to be overcome in order to experience empathic concern for someone that has committed an evil act. However, I argue that Morton is pushing to hard to find a tangible way to measure one’s empathetic capability, and that one’s capability and empathic accuracy will always differ in relation to another’s.

Lets take his example of the battered wife for instance. It is understandable why a wife would want to kill her husband in order to escape her abusive relationship. Even if we question how she could have committed an act that she so strongly opposed, people can surely empathize with her. Something to consider is that there is likely a considerable number of people that empathize with the deceased husband as well. The picture of this scenario can be painted in many ways, despite telling the same story. The emotion experienced will differ from one person to the next, but that doesn’t mean any one person is experiencing a false empathy for either spouse in this example. In other words, empathy can be considered highly relative to those feeling it, and thus a very malleable concept.

In the book “Intimate Relationships,” author Rowland Miller speaks on the topic of social cognition, and how “What we think helps to determine what we feel…” in terms of how we interpret why others do what they do (105). When there are many possible ways to interpret an event, we simply conjure an assumption for the why/how. We have the ability to “…choose a forgiving rationale, a blaming one, or something in between” (105). By choosing to take the perspective which gives someone the benefit of the doubt, we are then able to generate empathic concern for said person. This is important because if we think the husband is an abusive scumbag, and the wife is an abused saint, we will have a hard time empathizing with the husband and easy time doing so for the wife. This isn’t due to a lack of information, or a lack of understanding. Even if we are given the information to understand all three dimensions of someone’s situation, how can we ever truly distinguish fact from fiction? We can’t. We will always be limited in our understanding of specific details. The idea that people can empathize with two different people in the same scenario suggests we are simply choosing to empathize with those we see fit to empathize with–regardless of the actions that person takes. As each individual differs from the other, each perspective of the same scenario will inevitably differ to some degree. We’re human, and we’re always going to have an underlying prejudice that impacts the way we see things. Trying to take someone else’s perspective in its entirety will never be achievable to the extent Morton requires it to be. Does that make our empathy for others less real? By that logic, every instance of apparent empathy would be considered “pseudo-empathy,” and I don’t agree with that (329).

Here we have a front and center perspective of a man in a room. We think we see everything as it is, but do we?

This is the nature of our limitation when we try to take someone’s perspective. We can never know if we’re truly embodying another’s perspective, because we make subtle assumptions that operate beyond our awareness–no matter the situation.

In this instance, famous actor Robert De Niro steps up and voices his opinion on Donald Trump. Much of America empathizes with him, but not all.

We may all have the ability to empathize with anyone, but the paradigm that we use to view the world may be the cause for who we find worth empathizing with in the first place. To contrast the former video, we see those that empathize with Trump instead. The importance of this contrast is the difference in paradigms. Those that are choosing to empathize with Robert De Niro are apart of an in-group, and view Donald Trump to be of the out-group, and vice versa for those that are supporting Trump.

We just have to accept empathy for what it is: useful, needed, malleable, and unpredictable.


Works Cited

Miller, Rowland S. Intimate Relationships. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2012. Print.
Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives (2011): 318-30. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Quirkology. “Assumptions.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 18 December 2012. Web. 15 October 2016.
Ronnie Brag. “FULL VIDEO – Robert De Niro Attacks Donald Trump.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 07 October 2016. Web. 18 October 2016.
Saturday Night Live. “Voters For Trump Ad – SNL.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 06 March 2016. Web. 18 October 2016.

Unattainable Empathy Under Morton’s Strict Guidelines

In Morton’s essay “Empathy for the Devil”, the overarching theme is how empathy plays a role in committing atrocities. He argues that empathy may be harder to define than we think and that the emotion we feel when attempting to empathize with people who have committed atrocities is skewed due to our lack of the ability to truly understand. He, however, defines empathy as representing the other persons’ emotions in your mind and having an accurate perception, rather than truly feeling what they feel. He argues that people often blow things out of proportion which leads to pseudo-empathy, a term he defines as when you think you are understanding what someone else feels, but really you are just feeling what you think you would feel, based on skewed perceptions of the situation. Replacing rage with annoyance because they are in the same class of anger is one of the ways pseudo-empathy comes into play, according to Morton. He argues that empathetic understanding gives us the how, rather than why a person could do what they did and that it is only easy to empathize in ordinary situations, so when someone commits an atrocity we neither want to be able to empathize with them nor do we think of ourselves as capable of empathizing with them. He references Adam Smith, and how he defines sympathy and empathy to show how when we think that the other person responds to a situation in the same way we would, we feel empathy, and if not we have a hard time with this. He also references the Milgram experiment and ideas from Hume for further support of his argument.

One thing that I am uneasy about in Morton’s argument is that our skewed perceptions are what inhibit us from empathizing with those who commit atrocities. If empathy is unattainable without accurate perceptions, I argue that empathy is an unattainable goal entirely. For example, a study of empathy in people with congenital insensitivity to pain (CIP) has shown that “a normal personal experience of pain is not necessarily required for perceiving and feeling empathy for others’ pain” (Danziger et al.). If people who literally cannot experience pain are able to empathize with others’ pain, what is stopping us from being able to empathize with those that have committed atrocities? It may be that Morton has too strict a definition of empathy or a misunderstanding of the use of empathy in the real world. Being the individuals that we are, our perspectives differ greatly and I do not believe that this restricts us from being able to empathize with others. However, I do agree with Morton on the point that it is easier to empathize with actions we have performed in the past ourselves, or those we could see ourselves performing rather than those we have never performed, nor wish to. In the aforementioned study, researchers also found that due to the lack of “functional somatic resonance mechanisms shaped by previous pain experiences, others’ pain might be greatly underestimated”, meaning that there is a possibility that skewed perceptions can make it more difficult to empathize (Danziger et al.). However, the study also showed that if “…the observer is endowed with sufficient empathic abilities to fully acknowledge the suffering experience of others in spite of his own insensitivity” this could allow for empathy (Danziger et al.). Therefore, having skewed perceptions is not the end-all for our empathetic abilities.

In light of this information, one may reconsider Morton’s argument in “Empathy for the Devil” and find that we do not need such strict guidelines for empathy. His argument for a difference between empathy and pseudo-empathy does not hold, due to the fact that we all have individualistic perceptions. With such strict guidelines, all empathy we feel would actually be considered pseudo-empathy and real empathy would only be a theoretical, unattainable concept. There may be different degrees to which one can feel empathy, based on personal experiences and abilities, but I do not believe in drawing a hard line between real empathy and pseudo-empathy based on inaccurate perceptions.

Works Cited

Danziger, Nicolas, Kenneth M. Prkachin, and Jean-Claude Willer. “Is Pain the Price of Empathy? the Perception of Others’ Pain in Patients with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain.” Brain : a journal of neurology 129.Pt 9 (2006): 2494-507. Web.

Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print.

Blog 4: Morton’s One Major Flaw

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.

Works Cited

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.

Evaluating Morton’s Pseudo Empathy

Adam Morton argues people encounters a barrier that restricts them from committing atrocious acts in his article Empathy for the Devil. As moralistic people constantly regulate their own decency, they comprehend the “right” and the “moral”. Their definition of this “right” thing is distinct from what others believe and do. However, humans are limited to internal visualizations and cannot always perfectly correlate with others’ feelings and actions. He argues a person may understand someone’s motivation for an action(why), but that doesn’t suggest the person can also tell “how” did the observed individual decided to perform that specific action over all others. One example is the battered wife who pulls the trigger and kills her husband. It is understandable why a wife would want to escape her abusive relationship, but it is also questionable how she did she overcome her moral to pull her trigger; while she had other options, such as calling the police or move out of the house. The barrier in this example is committing an act of violence, which any non-violent and moral person would question.

Morton also distinguishes the three key conditions required for one to accurately empathize: discover what the barrier was, the person’s attitude towards overcoming the barrier, and “the nature of the emotion or motivation that facilitates the process” (Morton). There are instances when one may have attempted to interpret how another feels, but misidentifies. Morton calls this Pseudo empathy. For example, X, who endeavors to understand the motive behind A’s violent crime, inserted his own experience and emotional responses to resemble A’s cause. Did X closely simulate A’s emotions? Morton didn’t clearly state. However, Morton did suggest one who encompasses Pseudo empathy are tending to believe that they are accurately empathizing. Thus “The result is that we do not think of ourselves as capable of empathy with the performers of atrocious acts, and we do think of ourselves as understanding acts where all we have is a warm empathetic feeling.” (Morton)

In my opinion, Morton’s definition for Pseudo empathy and accurate non-Pseudo empathy conflicts with reality. A 100% accurate empathy is nearly impossible to reach. In the article Empathy, Emotion, Regulation, and Moral, it is explained how the closest people can get to full empathy is when people detach themselves from their natural perspective and look from the eyes of an imaginary impartial spectator (Kauppinen).

'Can we swap glasses? It might help me see your point of view!'

Not only that people are costumed to instinctively refer back to their own “habit and experience they do “so easily and readily, that we scarce sensible that we do it.”(Kauppinen), there are also no two people who share exactly the same passion and experienced. Misinterpretation is natural. Likewise, one can blame another before one identifies the fault due to social conditioning (Kauppinen). Excluding improper empathetic responses resulted from misunderstood, hidden, or modified information, truth-adjusted empathy (simulating being in one’s situation with correct and proper information) may also result in emotions that are not compatible with the original. Yet that does not make it any other objects like sympathy since it “involves no concern for you, or desire to make you feel better” (Kauppinen).


Ideally, empathy would be a complete simulation of another’s emotional responses to a situation. But this possibility is hindered by limitations on human ability to share backgrounds, beliefs, desire, values, and emotions cognitively. Our own passion and experiences automatically modify all our empathetic responses, leading to an off colored image comparing to the original, more or less. The uncontrollable lack of accuracy in our empathy would make almost all empathetic responses to fall into the category of what Morton defined to be “Pseudo empathy”. People can maximize their imaginative power, and they won’t be able to accomplish the task to make others’ feelings their own. Thus, there is no such object as “accurate empathy”, but only “more” accurate empathy.


Works cited:

Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print

Kauppinen, Antti. “Empathy, Emotion Regulation, and Moral Judgment.” For Heidi Maibom(ed.) Empathy and Morality, Oxford University Press. May 13, 2013: Web

Image References:

People See Things Differently. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

Judd, Phil. Swapping Glasses. Digital image. N.p., n.d. Web.

The Blinkering effect of Decency vs Moral Deliberation

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.

Work Cited

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.

Can There Be Empathy for Those Who Commit Atrocious Acts?

Morton’s Empathy for the Devil addresses why morality can inhibit empathy. He believes that with morality comes a barrier that obstructs a person’s ability to feel empathy with those who commit acts of atrocity. His use of hypothetical situations help the audience show how barriers that inhibit one’s actions can be broken, without allowing the audience to get too emotionally attached to these situations. He then ties these situations together to show how various people can connect with another person’s acts of atrocity. While Morton mentions that people’s inability to overcome these barriers results in pseudo-empathy where people feel a false sense of empathy, he also suggests that various situations allow people to empathize with people that commit acts of atrocity to an extent. He concludes by asserting that ultimately these connections can never be truly empathetic because the barriers that they break shy in comparison to the barriers broken by heinous acts.

While much of Morton’s argument makes complete sense and is tough to dispute, his reference to the possibility of people empathizing with those who commit acts of atrocity because of unrelated experiences is questionable. Morton argues that bystanders can understand how such acts can be done but not why they are done. This is the point in Morton’s argument that is in my opinion most debatable. He later qualifies the statement saying that “very few of the situations [given in his text] are mutually compatible” (Morton 327) but these experiences are not even enough for a person to believe that they can empathize with those who commit heinous acts as pseudo-empathy would suggest. Before I delve too deeply into Morton’s argument in comparison to my own, I want to give you a better definition of what empathy is with the video below.

The important takeaway from this video in my mind is that oftentimes we cannot necessarily connect with people who have vastly different ideals and personalities than ourselves. In the context of Morton’s piece, some of the situations presented in Morton’s essay, such as the dog poop situation (with person U) and the shy guy situation (with person T), do not help a person empathize with a criminal while Morton argues that each situation helps a character empathize with people who commit acts of atrocity, such a person A in his essay. As seen by the causes of empathy in Stepian’s “Educating for Empathy”, empathy is provoked by an understanding of a person’s situation. While there are some seemingly trivial factors that can lead to empathy, such as a person’s overall happiness, these factors do not extend so far as being able to understand the motive behind a murder.


A doctor interacting with a patient, as described in Stepian’s essay.

Similarly to Morton, Stepian explains that there can be barriers to empathy present in a physician to patient interaction. The major barriers presented in Stepian’s essay are age and socioeconomic status. Despite a twisted angle on this, relating a typical civilian and a criminal would require breaking some socioeconomic barrier. However, unlike Morton, Stepian claims that there is a way to overcome these barriers. The physicians must take classes related to empathy that bring out skills necessary to empathize with people of all backgrounds so the end, these physicians are able to empathize with nearly all of their patients. Ultimately, Stepian argues that if someone works hard enough to try to truly understand a person’s situation, they can empathize with them. If it is inherently difficult to empathize with someone because of their situation, there must be extensive attention put into the situation to the point where the person can truly connect with him or her in order to empathize. I agree with the fact that it is theoretically possible from any person to empathize with another if they work hard enough at it, there are some cases where it is simply too much effort. For example, if someone murders another person, it is possible for someone to empathize with him or her, but it is so difficult to get past the atrocious act to put in the effort for someone who is seemingly undeserving. 

It is possible to see how Morton intends for all of the people in these situations to empathize with a criminal. For example, one way people can interpret how the dog poop woman (person U) is able to empathize with Criminal A, at least in part, is based on the notion that her experience before being able to clean the poop was a frustrating one. Because of the angle, Morton hints at the fact that she is able to empathize with the frustration that criminal A feels. However, this connection is not enough to be able to empathize with someone. When someone experiences such a different view from Person A, the only way to empathize with Person A is to find a significant connection or attachment to Person A’s situation.

While it is not to say that no one can empathize with people who commit acts of atrocity, there is only a select few that can, and this select few can only empathize with this person if they have enough of an understanding of the criminal’s situation. A mere sharing of frustration oftentimes is not enough to be able to empathize at all with one who commits heinous acts. This small disagreement with Morton’s argument is certainly not substantial enough to hinder an agreement with Morton’s argument as a whole.

Works Cited

CogSai. “What Is Empathy?” YouTube. YouTube, 05 June 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2016.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press 318, 2011.

Stepien, Kathy A., and Amy Baernstein. “Educating for Empathy: A Review.” Journal of General Internal Medicine, vol. 21, no. 5, 2006., pp. 524-530

Blog #4: The Functional Double Standard of Empathy

In Morton’s essay “Empathy for the Devil”, the overarching theme is how empathy plays a role in committing atrocities. He argues that emotion felt when attempting to empathize with people who have committed atrocities is skewed due to the inability to truly understand. He, however, defines empathy as representing the other persons’ emotions in one’s mind and having an accurate perception, rather than truly feeling what they feel. One example he provides is the interactions between persons A and X, X who instigated a mildly racist confrontation when he was running late and A who assaulted his co-worker and is now in jail. To this, he says when X tries to empathize with A, X blows things out of proportion, leading to pseudo-empathy, a term he defines as when one thinks they understand another’s feelings, but is really just what one thinks they would feel.

He references Adam Smith, and how Smith defines empathy to show how when one thinks that another person had responded to a situation in the same way they would, empathy is felt, and if not it is difficult to find empathy.

This difference in empathy is in part owed to what Morton calls a barrier in empathy, an obstacle that prevents one from empathizing with all people, especially those who do terrible things, and prevents most people from committing crime. Because of this, Morton labels the lapses in empathy as the “blinkering effect of decency” (Morton 329). This is when people empathize all too easily in everyday situations, but stop themselves from empathizing with a bad person because they do not want to draw such parallels between themselves and people who do terrible things. Morton appears to end his essay on the note that the blinkering effect of decency is something that humans need to change in order to better understand one another on a less selfish level and develop a better understanding of true empathy.

While it has been acknowledged that empathy has many benefits, empathy also has its shortcomings. To wholly embrace empathy without skepticism is foolish, and although Morton does not do this, he is of the belief that more empathy can help people attain a wider and more insightful perspective. But more is not always better. The reason why we do not feel empathy for people who commit atrocities in the first place is because they have done something morally objectionable whereas most other people have not, allowing for a double standard of empathy. Moreover, empathy can end up clouding judgment if one mulls over a situation for too long as opposed to helping one reach a fair conclusion. Contrasting Morton’s doubt in the blinkering effect of decency, I believe that there is an underlying purpose to our tendency to empathize under certain circumstances as opposed to others. In Fritz Breithaupt’s, “Empathy for Empathy’s Sake: Aesthetics and Everyday Empathic Sadism,” Breithaupt states that it is possible to feel empathy for all people but the choice to do so is not always admirable nor desirable (151). Because there is emotional investment that comes with empathy, it is logical to be selective in doling out empathy, to minimize the risk of losing one’s sense of self should they become too involved. Thus defeating the purpose of trying to gain a more insightful perspective. Breithaupt notes cases of Stockholm Syndrome and Hostage Identification Crisis as downsides to having empathy for terrible people to the extent that one’s own priorities and sense of self can be lost (Breithaupt 154).
In this sense, the double standard of empathy is sensible, albeit self-serving. It allows humans to indulge in empathy in situations where there is nothing to lose and something to gain emotionally — that “warm empathic feeling,” colloquially known as the warm fuzzies (Morton 330). Conversely, it becomes easier to distance oneself emotionally from an atrocity, both out of not wanting to admit something that terrible could be closer to oneself than originally thought, but also out of a sense of self-preservation.

While Morton criticizes the double standard that is applied to empathy, this double standard is functional. The blinkering effect of decency serves a larger purpose that preserves judgement and identity and would not exist without a good reason.

Works Cited:

Breithaupt, Fritz. “Empathy for Empathy’s Sake: Aesthetics and Everyday Empathic Sadism.” Ed. Ines Detmers. Empathy and Its Limits. Ed. Aleida Assmann. Basingstoke, GB: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. 151-65. Web. 12 October 2016.

Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print.


Where Morton Gets it Wrong: Empathizing with Evil

Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) the murderous pedofile from The Lovely Bones

Mr. Harvey (Stanley Tucci) the murderous pedofile from The Lovely Bones

In “Empathy for the Devil” Adam Morton discusses human ability to empathize over moral barriers, specifically, human ability to empathize with people that have committed atrocious acts. Morton argues that humans have a hard time empathizing with those who commit atrocities because they cannot fully understand. Morton states that humans can understand the why, but not the how. He uses the example of the murderous pedophile. We can understand why he rapes children, to satisfy his desires, and kills them, to cover for the shameful thing that he has done (Morton, 321). However, we cannot understand how he did it. We cannot understand the situation or state of mind that allowed the pedophile to actually commit the act. He explains that even if someone believes that they can feel empathy for someone who commits an atrocious act, they may likely be experiencing “pseudo-empathy, an empathic feeling that is not accompanied by understanding,” (Morton, 327). In summary of his article, he states that “we want to take empathy as easy, to ease everyday interaction, and we want to take it as difficult, to keep a distance between us and those we despise. ” (Morton 330). He argues that if we allow ourselves to feel the empathy for those who commit atrocities then we might be better able to empathize in everyday situations.

In the conclusion of his article Morton states, “we minimize the ease with which we make continuities with atrocious acts,” (Morton, 330). He says that if we didn’t do this then we would be better able to feel empathy in everyday situations. He doesn’t really make any connection for how allowing ourselves to feel empathy for terrible people allows us to better feel empathy for everyday interactions. However, he seems to believe that our refusal to feel empathy for those who do evil things is a quite cognitive process, and that if we allowed ourselves to let go of those barriers that we put up we could empathize with everyone regardless of their actions. But, the moral and imaginative barriers that prevent us from empathizing with those who commit appalling acts are important.

One thing that may contribute to the barriers that we put up against assailants is “familiarity bias” or the tendency of people to empathize better with those who are close to them or are similar to them (Hoffman, 232). Our moral values and our inherent belief that we are good, prevents us from feeling similar to those who commit atrocious acts. We are more likely to identify with and want to empathize with the victim in the situation.

Robert Peraza, who lost his son Robert David Peraza, pauses at his son’s name at the North Pool of the 9/11 Memorial.

“We believe that the ease of self-stimulation may indicate a greater likelihood that the target falls within the observer’s “circle of moral regard”—the set of individuals for whom the observer feels some obligation to care (Reed & Aquino, 2003). Those inside the circle are entitled to our sympathy, while those outside the circle have no such claim,” (Chambers & Davis, 155). Basically humans are better able to identify with the victim because of our morality, and with this leave the aggressor out of our empathic emotions. If we allowed ourselves to feel empathy for the person who did the terrible thing then we would find contradiction in our morals. It is our moral barriers that prevent us from understanding how someone is able to do a horrific thing and thus prevents us from being able to carry out the act ourselves.

My fear is that if we allow ourselves to put down the moral barriers to empathize, as Morton suggests, we may allow ourselves in the future to put down the moral barriers and commit atrocities ourselves.

Works Cited:

Chambers, John R., and Mark H. Davis. “The Role of the Self in Perspective-Taking and Empathy: Ease of Self-Simulation as a Heuristic for Inferring Empathic Feelings.” Social Cognition 30.2 (2012): 153-80. ProQuest. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.

Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. 2011. 230-54. Print.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2014. 318-330. Print.

Reed, Americus,II, and Karl F. Aquino. “Moral Identity and the Expanding Circle of Moral Regard Toward Out-Groups.” Journal of personality and social psychology84.6 (2003): 1270-86. ProQuest. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.


We’re All a Bit Sociopathic

Evil stems from the fundamental comparison of dark and light, developing in complexity and meaning throughout the evolution of human beings as sentient creatures. But the term empathy and its application to evil and cruelty has hardly been around for a century. While evil itself is a socially defined concept that has very few universal applications, cruelty can be broken down more scientifically in terms of empathy. While “empathy is not the only component that contributes to cruelty,” it is inevitably the “final common pathway” that leads to atrocious acts (Baren-Cohen vii).

“One can imagine what another may be feeling, but cannot actually experience the emotions and motivations themselves.”

This post is not to debate the origins of cruelty, but to analyze the ability of common people to empathize with perpetrators of heinous crimes. In Morton’s essay, “Empathy for the Devil,” he argues that common people are unable to empathize with people who commit atrocities. This stems from the inherent barriers faced when attempting to understand and feel with someone who is committing a crime or act with which we would never normally condone. He claims that because it would go against most people’s own morality, they cannot truly empathize without becoming the devil themselves. This once again comes back to psychological barriers, which create pseudo-empathy, rather than genuine empathic feelings. Therefore, one can imagine what another may be feeling, but cannot actually experience the emotions and motivations themselves, making it less accurate than the true emotion. Morton concludes with the idea that in today’s society, we tend to exaggerate our ability to empathize accurately with those we “should’ empathize with, and suppress our ability to empathize with those who commit crimes.

“To empathize with someone committing atrocities [is to] feel the ‘internal pain’ experienced by the devil himself.”

While fundamentally Morton’s argument rings true, there is an inherent flaw within his reasoning that empathy can only be experienced based on how a person could commit atrocities. Under the principles of Chinese philosophy (valid because ethnocentric arguments lack depth) the devil Morton speaks of is “a person who suffers internal or characteristic pain,” a nice way of saying a character flaw (Huang 22). This perspective is unique as western culture typically views those who do bad things as being the embodiment of evil, whereas eastern philosophy views their actions as the manifestation of internal agony. Thus, in this same vein, to empathize with someone committing atrocities, one does not have to imagine committing those acts, but instead feel the “internal pain” experienced by the devil himself (Huang). Morton’s argument that morality inhibits people from empathizing with a criminal’s actions crumbles, because it is not the acts of evil which need to be empathize with, but the character flaw or internal suffering of the perpetrator.

Now, consider the point made in the introduction: cruelty stems from a lack of empathy. Typically, as Morton points out, when a “person’s actions toward others exhibit a basic lack of empathy,” those who normally find it easy to empathize with others “will tend to be chilled (or at least “left cold”)” by those cruel actions (Slote 35). But here is where the second aspect of Morton’s argument falls. Because this chilling effect, as it were, is not representative of a lack of empathy, but rather the manifestation of it. The reason a person who normally empathizes with others feels so cold (or at least unempathetic) towards what many would deem cruel or evil people is precisely because they are “(cold hearted or very cool) in their attitudes or feelings toward other people” (Slote 37). In summary, a person, when challenged with empathizing with someone who is unempathetic and cruel will “catch (or pick up) a chill’ from the ‘cold hearted’ agents who lack a warm concern for others” and will thus feel what they are feeling–an absence of empathy (Slote).

An American crime drama which follows a team of FBI profilers, who have to think like the killers they are chasing in order to catch them.

An American crime drama which follows a team of FBI profilers, who have to think like the killers they are chasing in order to catch them.

To explore the public’s fascination with evil, one does not have to look any farther than popular television. Shows such as Criminal Minds and Dexter explore the very nature of evil, and what it means to empathize with those who commit atrocities. Morton’s argument that no one can empathize with evil without becoming the devil themselves is too narrow minded, ignoring the idea that it is not the actions we must empathize with, but the internal pain which drives them to act, and the effect of feeling what someone who is coldhearted and unempathetic feels. Thus, because we become cold ourselves when faced with people who do not feel empathy, we also become just a bit sociopathic.

Works Cited

Huang, Yong. “The “Double Bind” on Specialists in Chinese Philosophy.” Journal of Chinese Humanities 15.2 (2016): 22. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print. 12 Oct. 2016

Slote, Michael. “Moral Approval and Disapproval.” Moral Sentimentalism. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2010. 27-44. Print.