At The Financial Times: Julian Baggini reviews 3 books on ethics, a comment by Philosophical Apprentice

Headline: Painful truths: psychologists unpick the ethics of empathy

Sub-headline: Why putting yourself in others’ shoes can sometimes be a poor moral guide

The headline and the sub-headline are indicative of a publication that worships at the alter of  the Neo-Liberal Trinity of Hayek/Mises/Friedman, with a lesser position being occupied by Ayn Rand as protector and advocate for Greed. Is it surprise to be read Mr. Julian Baggini’s review of three books on ‘Empathy’ with just the merest mention of Hume? Or any of the thinkers of a very long tradition.

The ‘as if ‘ here is that we, the readers, are the windowless monads of Leibniz, or something akin to that imaginary creature. And that we are somehow strangers to the human world, in which the exercise of ethical judgement is beyond our ken. If our journey here on earth has taught us anything of worth, our misapplication of ’empathy’ is learned the hard way, by too many applications of ’empathy’ when it was unwarranted. Those hard lessons do not preclude the exercise of empathy, when we fell that it is deserved, even when we discover it is undeserved, again and again: it is part of valuable life lessons. Not to dwell on the negative, we see, we experience our ethical actions ,as not within an economic frame, but in actions based on our judgement, our experience. Not to speak of a faith based on our evolving rationalism wedded to our evolving sensibility.

Also unmentioned is the Adam Smith’s ‘Theory of Moral Sentiments’:


Or even D.D. Raphael’s book ‘The Impartial Spectator: Adam Smith’s Moral Philosophy’


Mr. Baggini seems properly skeptical of the value of ‘Brain Scans’ and the contribution that ‘Science’ can make to ethical decisions. Its unclear what exactly ‘Rational Compassion’ might be, other than the ethical territory explored 250 years ago by Smith and carefully explored and explicated by Mr. Raphael.

Philosophical Apprentice





About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
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