Against empathy

Consider a commonplace yet erroneous metaphysical assumption about (modern) human beings made by most people today (especially those in the caring profession):

In virtue of our being inherently weak and prone to suffering, we human beings yearn to be helped.

*

Two brief anecdotes that tell against this picture:

One philosophical friend suggested, ‘There is nothing more disturbing than the idea that people want to help you.’

An acquaintance of mine told me that therapy carried the implication to him that ‘you need help.’

Why would anyone–though not these two above who are exceptions–desire above all to be helped?

*

Metaphysical-Ethical Picture 1: Humans are Weak
 

1.) Human beings are weak creatures prone to suffering.

2.) Human beings confirm this when they confess to those around them that this is so. (‘I am so miserable,’ etc.)

3.) Their fellows confirm this when they debase themselves (i.e., show that they too are just as weak: ‘Oh, that overwhelms me too.’ ‘Oh, I’m not much either,’ etc.) in the presence of the speaker.

Ethical conclusions:

Therefore, the speaker is seeking to be helped.

Therefore, the highest ethical virtue in such a linguistic community would be compassion/empathy/pity.

Therefore, the strongest ethical bond between persons is cemented as a result of this nexus: confession, debasement/diminishment, and empathy.
Therefore, the highest ethical mission among those who are members of this linguistic community would be to end the universal suffering of the weak. (Marx quote regarding religion: ‘man is a debased, enslaved forsaken, despicable being.’)

*

One thought experiment: you are born in ancient Sparta. Warriors are trained; battles are fought. Would the virtue of empathy emerge in this community?

A second thought experiment: you are born into an inquisitive community. People get surprised; they are fascinated or perplexed; they learn to inquire. Would empathy ever emerge in such a milieux?

No, other virtues would be cultivated: bravery in Sparta, disinterested interest within the inquisitive community.

Advertisements