In the article “Empathy for the Devil” by Adam Morton, the writer raises the question of why we do feel empathy toward ordinary actions are blind towards atrocious actions. According to the author, people usually constructor a “barrier” when empathizing other’s atrocious acts, and that because of people being too sensitive so that it makes it “harder to identify imaginatively with important parts of human possibility” (Morton 318). Morton also states that one should identify accurate empathetic emotion among all the empathetic feelings while be aware of “puzzlement about how in many very ordinary cases someone we know well could do what they did” (Morton 330). First of all, Adam Morton underlines his definition of the empathy and displays series of examples that help him to argue his point. He claims that empathy is sharing effective tone and perspective. In the main part of his essay, Adam Morton focuses on “why and how” problem which means that, most of the times, even though one has empathetic feeling toward the perpetuator and know HOW the perpetuator managed to do it, one still won’t fully understand WHY the person did that particular act and their inner motivation, and thus his empathy becomes a pseudo-empathy. According to Adam Morton, pseudo-empathy is empathetic feeling that is not accompanied by the understanding. For author, to understand the reason behind going in one direction rather than in other, “we have to overcome some barrier or inhabitation” (Morton 320). He uses examples of A-assault, X-taxi, Smoking, Propositioning and Dog poop to argue his point. These paradigms illustrate the various barriers that might be the answer to the main question of the article. The author’s perspective on the problem is that people usually feel pseudo-empathy towards ones who did atrocious acts, which limits their empathy. Overall, the author states that in order 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.
Morton did absolutely a good job in both using an unusual way to explain the empathy and providing the examples for his viewpoint. I have to say that most of his examples, except the example of dog poop, are effective and precise. However, Morton tried to define empathy in his own way seems to be unpersuasive and may even be a failure. From Morton’s point of view, empathy is invoked when a person fully understands another’s action and his or her reason to act like that, but this may not be the definition of empathy. As far as I am concerned, empathy is variable in different environment and may be invoked by different cases in different situation. According to Cuff, B. M. P., in the article “Empathy: A Review of the Concept”, they defined empathy like this: “Empathy includes both cognitive and affective elements; the emotions of the target and observer are similar but not identical; other stimuli, such as imagination, can evoke empathy; a self/other distinction is maintained in empathy, although a degree of merging is necessary; empathy is affected by both trait and state influences; behavioral outcomes are not part of empathy itself; and finally, empathy is automatically elicited but is also subject to top-down controlled processes” (Cuff 150). It is not hard to find out that this definition of empathy is totally different from Morton’s, what Cuff suggests is that empathy is a complicated emotion and has more than one form. I think that Morton’s definition of empathy may be too subjectively and too shallow whereas Cuff considers that empathy is actually hard to define and we should consider empathy in several situations, and apparently the latter opinion is more persuasive.
Admittedly, Morton’s article’s structure doesn’t allow him to define empathy by cases, but it will never be a bad idea to mention that empathy is complex, unstable and we should define empathy by cases. Morton’s definition of empathy is, apparently, differ from what it should be and might mislead the people who study empathy in the first time.
Morton, Adam. “Empathy For The Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie, Oxford University Press, 2011, 318-330.
Cuff, B.M.H, “Empathy: A review of concept” Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, Coventry University, UK, December 1, 2014, 145-153.