Resisting Empathy Bias with Pragmatist Ethics

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
Author: William Kidder1
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  • 1 Philosophy Department, University at Albany, State University of New York, wkidder@albany.edu

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The paper employs a pragmatist perspective on ethics to address the problem of empathy bias, an empirically documented phenomenon in which one’s ability to empathize with another is diminished simply because of that other’s membership in a perceived out-group. I first argue that the philosophical commitments that I take to be distinctive of pragmatism, specifically fallibilism, anti-absolutism, and democracy, require proactive empathetic engagement as a central component of moral inquiry. While this may initially seem to leave pragmatism vulnerable to concerns about empathy bias, I argue that the pragmatist is uniquely equipped to provide a particular sort of response to the problem: a response that does not jettison empathy from moral judgment, but rather seeks to utilize awareness of bias to appropriately correct empathetic engagement when addressing moral problems.

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