It is because of empathy that we often enact savage laws or enter into terrible wars; our feeling for the suffering of the few leads to disastrous consequences for the many.
Paul Bloom, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, New York, 2016, p. 127
[I]t is impossible to empathize with seven billion strangers, or to feel toward someone you’ve never met the degree of concern you feel for a child, a friend, or a lover. Our best hope for the future is not to get people to think of all humanity as family—that’s impossible. It lies, instead, in an appreciation of the fact that, even if we don’t empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value as the lives of those we love.
Paul Bloom, ‘The Baby in the Well’, The New Yorker, May 20, 2013
In every [law] course we took, our casebooks were filled with outrageous stories of fraud, deceit, and oppression, demonstrations of how deeply and creatively human beings can wrong each other. Once in a while some story would prove too much for my classmates, and they would collectively become incensed, getting visibly upset over things that had happened decades or centuries ago to dead strangers. Watching them, I was fascinated but nervous. These people apparently felt something that I did not. From such outrage, I heard the most ridiculous suggestions for my classmates’ illogical, knee-jerk calls for vigilantism, in complete disregard for the carefully balanced scales of justice. When my classmates could no longer identify with the child molesters and the rapists in the pages of our casebooks, they allowed righteous anger to determine their decision-making, applying a different set of rules to those people they considered morally reprehensible than they did to people they considered good, like them. Sitting in class, I saw how the rules changed when people reached the limits of empathy.
M. E. Thomas, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight, London, 2013, p. 173
For most people, the goal of any altruistic act is simply to do something helpful. Very few of us choose where to donate, where to volunteer, and how to live our lives based on the answer to the question, “How can I do the most possible good in the world?” And yet it is that calculating attitude that is crucial to helping as many animals (or people) as possible.
Nick Cooney, Veganomics: The Surprising Science on What Motivates Vegetarians, from the Breakfast Table to the Bedroom, Brooklyn, New York, 2014, chap. 1
It strikes me that men who are accustomed to contemplate the active or passive extirpation of the weak, the unfortunate, and the superfluous; who justify that conduct on the ground that it has the sanction of the cosmic process, and is the only way of ensuring the progress of the race; who, if they are consistent, must rank medicine among the black arts and count the physician a mischievous preserver of the unfit; on whose matrimonial undertakings the principles of the stud have the chief influence; whose whole lives, therefore are an education in the noble art of suppressing natural affection and sympathy, are not likely to have any large stock of those commodities left.
Thomas Henry Huxley, ‘Evolution and Ethics’, in Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays, London, 1884, pp. 36-37