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Is Empathy Important for Morality?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Gabriela Pavarini.

Empathy is widely and increasingly heralded as an essential ingredient of morality. It is said to be necessary for moral development, moral motivation, and even for comprehending the moral domain. But is empathy really important for morality? Prof Jesse Prinz and Prof Molly Crockett will address these claims and engage in a discussion and Q&A session. Prof Prinz argues that empathy is in fact not necessary for morality, and it may even be harmful. Because empathy can bias us towards our near and dear, and blind us to demands of justice, we should look beyond empathy in developing recommendations about how to instill moral competence and encourage moral commitment. For Prof Crockett, answering the question of whether empathy is necessary to morality has been difficult due to the limitations of methods for measuring morality in the lab. Most research on human morality has relied on hypothetical judgments but there is evidence that hypothetical judgments are poor predictors of real moral decisions. In her talk she will describe newly developed methods for quantifying morality in the lab and present the results of a series of behavioral experiments investigating how people disvalue the pain of strangers relative to their own pain. These studies provide empirical data bearing on the question of whether empathy is important and necessary for morality.

About the presenters:

Prof. Jesse J. Prinz is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and director of the Committee for Interdisciplinary Science Studies at the City University of New York. He has published over 100 articles on several topics in moral psychology, philosophy, and consciousness. His books include The Conscious Brain, Beyond Human Nature, and many others. A leading advocate of empirical approaches to philosophical questions, Prof Prinz emphasizes the role of culture and emotion in shaping human morals.

Prof. Molly Crockett is an Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford. Her pioneering work on the neural basis of altruism and morality has been published in top journals including Science and PNAS , and has been covered by the New York Times, BBC , Scientific American, and others. Prof Crockett is intrigued by how individuals reconcile multiple conflicting motives in moral decision-making, and how neuroscience can help individuals make better decisions.

We’re organising individual meetings for the speakers during the day, so if you’d like to meet either of them on the day, please feel free to sign up using this doodle form (don’t forget to leave a comment!): Prof Jesse Prinz: Prof Molly Crockett:

This talk is part of the Moral Psychology Research Group series.

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