Which feature of human nature accounts for moral motivation? From a Scottish Sentimentalist perspective, the answer lies in our fellow feelings: empathy, the capacity for sharing what other people feel; and sympathy, the capacity for feeling concern for other people’s well-being. Recently, disagreement has emerged within Scottish Sentimentalism on which of the two fellow feelings does the real work in motivating moral acts. Paul Bloom famously argues that sympathy is sufficient for moral motivation with the help of theory of mind (or often called mind reading), and thus concludes that empathy is not necessary from a Scottish Sentimentalist perspective. I argue that Bloom’s conclusion is too quick. With the latest views of the complicated nature of empathy, I argue that empathy is necessary for forming sympathy due to its three contributions that theory of mind cannot make: the appreciation of other people’s suffering given their situation, the empathic perspective-taking that breaks the boundary between self and others, and the phenomenal knowledge of how bad other people’s suffering feels. Hence, empathy is indirectly necessary for moral motivation by virtue of being directly necessary for sympathy (because sympathy is a direct necessary condition for moral motivation according to Scottish Sentimentalism). Therefore, I conclude contra Bloom that empathy is necessary, though indirectly, for moral motivation from a Scottish Sentimentalist perspective.
"The Moral Significance of Empathy: A Scottish Sentimentalist Perspective,"
The Hilltop Review: Vol. 13:
1, Article 3.
Available at: https://scholarworks.wmich.edu/hilltopreview/vol13/iss1/3