A widespread view in moral psychology holds that empathy and sympathy play key roles in morality and in prosocial and altruistic actions. Recently, some psychologists and philosophers have challenged this trend, arguing that empathy does not play a foundational or causal role in morality. The anti-empathic view has two major theses. First: empathy is not a necessary precondition for moral approval and disapproval. Second: empathy is prone to biases that render it potentially harmful and frequently produce morally undesirable results. The counterintuitive conclusions are that empathy plays no essential role in morality and that it interferes negatively with the ends of morality; therefore, it should not be cultivated.
In this talk Dr. Claudia Passos-Ferreira will argue against both theses. First, Dr. Passos-Ferreira will argue that empathy plays a necessary role in human moral development, contending that empathy – understood either as vicarious sharing of emotion or as affective perspective shifting through simulation and imaginative reconstruction – is fundamental to the development of moral agency. The absence or deficiency of these processes (e.g., in autistic and psychopathic people) leads to the absence or deficiency of a crucial element of our morality. Second, Dr. Passos-Ferreira will argue that empathy is desirable as a moral emotion and, there is a moral benefit associated with empathic feelings. Dr. Passos-Ferreira will also argue that there are certain morally demanding situations in which empathy is our best guide to moral judgment.
Claudia Passos-Ferreira is a philosopher and a clinical psychologist. She studied psychology at Rio de Janeiro State University and obtained a Ph.D in Public Health in 2005. She has been a postdoctoral research fellow at the Social Medicine Institute at UERJ where she taught bioethics and issues in neuroscience, psychopathology and psychoanalysis. She has also been a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy at Rio de Janeiro Federal University, working on the interdisciplinary project “Ethics and Biotechnologies” as well as on an international project on cross-cultural moral development. She is now pursuing a second Ph.D. in philosophy, focusing on the development of consciousness, self-consciousness, and moral agency in children.
Dr. Passos-Ferreira’s Paper: “In Defense of Empathy: A Response to Prinz”
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016
12:30 PM – 2:00 PM