When Morton Veers Off Course

Throughout his essay “Empathy for the Devil”, Adam Morton makes several claims in reference to empathizing with atrocious acts. Morton goes into more depth by looking at how and why seemingly normal people will empathize with evil acts. He ultimately theorizes that there exists a barrier between people knowing how and why an atrocious act is performed. Morton arrived at this thesis by examining people who showed signs of empathizing with atrocious acts and looks further as to why “normal” people like us end up showing empathy to people performing these evil acts. He comes to a conclusion that we are able to have an understanding of why people might perform an evil act. Though, the barrier comes into play when we have to understand how a person ultimately performs the act. This is the barrier that he refers to(Morton 320). Morton elaborates in saying that people will often mistake feelings of empathy with pseudo-empathy. He says that this is a form of empathy which is accompanied by no understanding at all(Morton 327). By deriving of this term, Morton is able to have a concrete word to describe the people who experience the barrier.

Adam Morton develops a strong argument with strong support, thus making it difficult to refute. With a paper that revolves around the term “empathy”, it is important that Morton is on the same page as the reader when it comes to defining terms.  He establishes fair us of the term “pseudo-empathy”. At the point in the reading when this establishment occurs, it is likely that the reader has gotten a good grasp on what empathy is. In bringing up a seemingly similar term of pseudo-empathy, Morton is confusing the reader. Christian Miller helps support me on this in his article on “Defining Empathy: Thoughts on Coplan’s Approach”. Miller does an extensive analysis on a variety of issues with Coplan, but one of the most simple points is what helps to support my debunking of the idea of pseudo-empathy. He says that there are certain people(Adam Morton is included in this list) who have a very wide spectrum for which they categorize empathy. Though, he goes on to explain a differing mindset that Coplan expresses. Coplan says that ONLY “Empathy Proper” is considered to be empathy. All other processes (such as pseudo-empathy) are considered to be non empathetic processes(Miller 71). This is what I think must be added to Morton’s essay. He already makes some very small distinctions between aspects of human actions,etc. I think he needs to make a clear cut line on what is not empathy so it is easier to understand who empathizes and who does not. It is too difficult to understand how a pseudo-empathizer is different.

Given a reader who better understands the weakness of using “pseudo-empathy”, it seems as though they should question Morton’s argument. He main way of hooking in the reader is with an essay entitled “Empathy for the Devil”. It seems absurd to readers that people would actually empathize with the Devil. Though, it turns out that Adam Morton is arguing that some people “pseudo-empathize” with the Devil. Knowing that pseudo-empathy is not empathy at all, this means that the basis of title and thesis collapse.







MILLER, C. (2011), DEFINING EMPATHY: THOUGHTS ON COPLAN’S APPROACH. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 49: 66–72. doi:10.1111/j.2041-6962.2011.00057.x

Morton, Adam. “Empathy For The Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological                 Perspectives, edited by Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press,                 2011, 318-330.


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