Is Empathy a Virtue?

Heather D. Battaly

in Empathy

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199539956
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191730931 | DOI:
Is Empathy a Virtue?

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Pre-theoretically, we conceive of empathy as a moral virtue. Philosophers and psychologists have tried to improve on our pre-theoretical concept of empathy. This chapter argues that if their ‘improved’ concepts of empathy are correct, then empathy is not a virtue. Section 1 enumerates four different concepts of empathy: (1) empathy as caring, and/or sharing, and/or knowing (our pre-theoretical concept); (2) empathy as sharing by multiple means; (3) empathy as sharing and knowing; and (4) empathy as knowing by multiple means. Section 2 introduces the main features of virtues, skills, and capacities. Using virtue ethics and virtue epistemology, it argues that there are three differences between virtues and skills. Section 3 contends that empathy as construed by concepts (2), (3), and (4) is neither a moral nor an intellectual virtue. If empathy is voluntary and reliable, it is a skill. If it is involuntary, it is a capacity.

Keywords: empathy; virtue; skill; capacity; moral virtue; intellectual virtue; virtue ethics; virtue epistemology

Chapter.  12965 words. 

Subjects: Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art

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