The Accurate Empathy: Limitations of Empathy in Adam Morton “Empathy for The Devil”

The article “Empathy for the Devil” by Adam Morton raises the question of why do we feel empathy toward ordinary actions, while being blind towards evil, atrocious, acts. According to the author, the limitation of empathy towards atrocious actions is caused by people being too sensitive, which makes it “harder to identify imaginatively with important parts of human possibility” (Morton 318). From the author’s perspective, we should identify accurate empathetic emotion among all empathetic feelings. According to the Morton, empathy is sharing affective tone and perspective and further underlines that “taking another’s point of view can result in understanding their actions better” (Morton 318). In the essay, Adam Morton focuses on a “why versus how” problem, which illustrates that lack of empathy towards perpetuators is due to lack of understanding of why a person did that particular act, out of all of the options, rather than just understanding why person did atrocity. According to the author, in order to understand the reason behind going in one direction rather than in the other, “we need a general intuitive sense of their barrier-overcoming profiles” (Morton 329). This is where empathy plays the role: in understanding the barrier and the ways we use to overcome them. He presents series of paradigms that illustrate various non-evil type of barriers
that, if connected to evil acts, allow empathy to bring some insight in atrocious actions. The author’s perspective on the question is that lack understanding of perpetuators barrier overcoming profile leads pseudo-empathy, an empathetic feeling that is not
accompanied by the understanding (Morton 327). Therefore, according to the author, in empathyorder to find the accurate empathetic emotion towards ones who did atrocious actions,
we need to rely on our understanding of their motives and perspective and rely on the real empathy, rather than pseudo-empathy.

After analyzing Adam Morton’s article “Empathy for the Devil”, I regard some of the arguments made by the author as inaccurate. The author states that lack understanding of perpetuator’s barrier overcoming profile leads to lack of understanding of how person did the atrocity, which leads to pseudo-empathy. Moreover, Morton states that in order to understand one’s actions better, we need take his or her point of view, therefore, empathy, according to the author, should be other-oriented. From my perspective, empathy’s effect on our understanding of other’s feelings is more influential when it is self-oriented. Self-oriented empathy is adjusting other person’s position to ourselves and applying our own background and feelings towards the situation, rather than taking that person’s perspective with their feelings and background as in other-oriented empathy. According to MJ Banissy’s article “Inter-Individual Differences in Empathy are Reflected in Human Brain Structure”, self-oriented empathy towards another person leads to “greater neural activity in the neural network” than other-oriented empathy and leads to greater replication of other’s neural activity (Banissy). Moreover, Philip L Jackson, states that “shared neural circuits between self and other prompt the observer to resonate with the emotional state of others” (Jackson, 6). Therefore, as revealed by MJ, self-oriented empathy leads to greater neural activity, which, according Philip, leads to understanding emotional state of others. Hence, in order to understand a perpetuator and thus empathize with atrocious act, we need to rely on self-oriented, rather than other-oriented empathy.

Understanding effects of self-oriented and other-oriented empathy, it is clear that Adam Morton’s argument about taking other’s perspective should be overlooked. According to the author, the reason behind the failure of people to empathize with atrocious acts is lack of understanding of how person did atrocity, which leads to pseudo-empathy. As displayed by MJ Banissy’s and Philip L Jackson’s articles, self-oriented, rather than other-oriented, empathy is the key to understanding and empathizing with ones who did evil, atrocious, actions. However, by disagreeing with Adam Morton’s understanding of effects of self-oriented and other-oriented empathy, I do not, in any means, contradict author’s overall argument about the topic: the reason behind lack of empathy towards atrocious acts is the lack of understanding of how, rather than why, evil actions are being done.

Works Cited:

  • Banissy, MJ. “Inter-Individual Differences in Empathy are Reflected in Human Brain Structure.” Neuroimage, vol. 62, no. 3, 2012. pp. 2034-2039.
  • Jackson, Philip L., Pierre Rainville, and Jean Decety. “To what Extent do we Share the Pain of Others? Insight from the Neural Bases of Pain Empathy.” Pain, vol. 125, no. 1, 2006. pp. 5-9.
  • Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press, 2011. Oxford Scholarship Online, 2012. Date Accessed 17 Oct. 2016. pp. 318-330.
  • Hoffman, Martin L. “Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.

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