Empathy as an ascetic ideal

Why would empathy not be a supreme virtue? By ’empathy,’ I mean what most laypersons mean: either feeling what another is badly feeling or acknowledging what the other is badly feeling. By ‘supreme virtue,’ I mean the virtue of virtues, one that is ripped free of context and raised to a principle. That principle would be: ‘always be empathetic toward those who are suffering.’ Nietzsche would call such a transformation of empathy into a principle an ‘ascetic ideal.’

Now, let us return to the metaphysical premise that I have denied: namely, that human beings are inherently weak creatures prone to suffering. Let us suppose that someone says, ‘Oh, what a miserable place the world is.’ The common reply from the friend is, ‘Ah, you must be going through quite a hard time. Why don’t you tell me about it?’ Or: ‘Life is tough, isn’t it?’ Or: ‘I acknowledge that you’re feeling very sad.’

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