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The Dark Sides of Empathy

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  21 ratings  ·  10 reviews
Many consider empathy to be the basis of moral action. However, the ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty toward them. In The Dark Sides of Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt contends that people commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of over-identification. Even well-meaning comp ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published June 15th 2019 by Cornell University Press
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McKenzie/literarydragon
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I'll be honest I didn't get very far in this book. I didn't feel drawn to continue it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it reads like an essay, a really long needlessly drawn out essay. Secondly, the conclusions Breithaupt was drawing early on felt inaccurate. For example, he opined that serial killers kill because of the empathy they feel with their victim's suffering. I'm not a psychologist but I think that's too simpli
...more
Edna
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Many consider empathy to be the basis of moral action. However, the ability to empathize with others is also a prerequisite for deliberate acts of humiliation and cruelty. In The Dark Sides of Empathy, Fritz Breithaupt contends that people often commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of over-identification and a desire to increase empathy. Even well-meaning compassion can have many unintended consequences, such as intensifying conflicts or exploiting ...more
Dimitris Passas
This was a title I was eager to check out as I was curious to see the argument(s) that would put in question the dominant interpretation(s) of empathy. The writer, Fritz Breithaupt, is a professor of cognitive science but himself claims that his main academic focus is literary criticism and cultural studies. He claims that this is not a book against empathy but rather intends to suggest a different approach to this "central form that shapes what we are as human beings". Breithaupt struggles to s ...more
Morgan Schulman
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.

This book caused me to think things through very deeply that I probably would not have thought if I had not read it – and for that alone I would consider it a worthwhile use of my time. It examines human nature more honestly then many books of its kind, and well I definitely saw some of myself in the more selfish or as he would put it “vampiric “type of empathy, I understand that was something I probably needed to look at. I w
...more
Jim Robles
Aug 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Five stars! Our motives are fortunately and unfortunately usually opaque to ourselves. Let us be careful what we do and why. This one provides dark guidance.

"Empathy is not necessarily pernicious, but neither is it principally good" (221).

I first heard about this one on NPR:
The End Of Empathy
April 15, 20195:00 AM ET
HANNA ROSIN

Five stars! Our motives are fortunately and unfortunately usually opaque to ourselves. Let us be careful what we do and why. This one provides dark guidance.

"Empathy is not necessarily pernicious, but neither is it principally good" (221).

I first heard about this one on NPR:
The End Of Empathy
April 15, 20195:00 AM ET
HANNA ROSIN

https://www.npr.org/2019/04/15/712249...

"Introduction

This book is about the terrible things we do because of our ability to empathize with others" (1).

"Painting the world in black and white makes such perception easier, as does the stage view afforded by vampiristic empathy" (18).

Men react differently than women to punishment of the guilty. "This specific difference is more remarkable because in no other case has so fundamental a difference between men and women in empathy-relevant situations been found" (28-29).

"1 Self-Loss" (37)

"To quickly summarize the argument in the first part of 'On the Genealogy of Morals': Morality is the product of the conflict between two political classes (or races), namely masters and common people or slaves" (52).

"Usually the more central features of a culture are not visible from within" (71).

"2 Painting in Black and White" (75)

"The focus on the actual uses of empathy then leads to one of the dark sides of empathy--the biases, prejudices, and injustices that empathy can cause" (76).

"Catalysts. . . . unconscious emotional 'infection' . . . mass hysteria)" (80). Also p. 88.

"In-group bias" (86). Particularism!

"Research indicates that people show more empathy towards acute patients than chronic patients in specific cases" (92).

"It seems to be a compelling hypothesis that side-taking is the primary, and evolutionarily older, structure and that moral judgment follows closely on its heels" (98).

The "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" leaped off of p. 101. He is a vegetarian for moral reasons. He is becalmed at sea. Cod are being caught and fried, and smell "wonderfully good." He triumphantly justifies giving up vegetarianism exactly as described.

"Modern terrorism has its origins in the incendiary nationalisms of the nineteenth century, which coincided with the emergence of mass media" (115).

The bottom of p. 115 misses the effect of the ummah, and understates the positive correlation between material well-being and propensity to commit terrorist acts.

"This case suggests the limits of education to make a significant difference in perspectives shaped by history" (119).

"3 False Empathy, Filtered Empathy" (131)

"Positive change allows the emphatic observer to withdraw their empathy once the other no longer needs it" (133). This allows us to expect the undeveloped world to remain in a state of immiseration as we continue to consume and pollute.

"To me, our current global state of affairs seems to be utterly indefensible, radically unfair, and life negating" (144).

"Both filtered empathy and false empathy can create a quick straw fire of enthusiasm, but it does not usually last" (158).

"4 Empathetic Sadism" (161)

"The paradox of tragedy is that the observer is left with a positive (or somehow positively marked) feeling as a direct result of the terrible fate of the tragic hero" (164).

"Seen this way, sadistic empathy makes sense, as it would have a selection advantage for the community" (177).

The "dictator game" is on p. 178. The motive is revenge, rather than fairness.

"Akin to the sadistic benefactor is the figure wielding advocative exploitative empathy. This advocate empathizes with the one suffering and takes their side in order to find pleasure and satisfaction in playing the role of the advocate. Because the suffering of the other is necessary for the existence of their role, this can mean that the advocate wishes for positive change while at the same time prolonging the suffering" (189).

"5 Vampiristic Empathy" (201)

"Epilogue: Empathy Between Morality and Aesthetics" (221)
...more
J Earl
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Dark Sides of Empathy from Fritz Breithaupt makes the general argument about empathy that, I think, can be made about just about any aspect of human feeling and behavior, namely that there are more sides than the one we generally perceive.

I have mixed feelings about this book, but less because of the conclusion than because of the structures and arguments constructed in making his argument. In other words, I agree that empathy, just like love and selfishness/selflessness, can hav
...more
Kelly
Aug 04, 2019 rated it liked it
The Dark Sides of Empathy by Fritz Breithaupt presented many interesting arguments related to the downside of empathy and made a case that we should not just blindly teach or encourage empathy without any checks and balances. While there were many interesting arguments, and it was interesting to learn about the history of empathy and empathy research, the book was written in a very academic way. It made it more challenging to read and I felt that I needed to read it more slowly and/or read again ...more
Sergio Caredda
L’autore esamina il concetto di Empatia da molti punti di vista, sottolineando che non necessariamente l’empatia abbia un valore morale positivo.
Investigando ambiti legati al comportamento umano, offre una chiave di lettura molto interessante su un tema che nella recente letteratura, specie manageriale, viene semplicemente considerato “positivo”, senza chiedersi cosa ci sia dietro.
Il testo è scritto come saggio scientifico, quindi non si presta a una facile divulgazione. Ma molti deg
...more
Cristie Underwood
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
The author really laid out a strong case with numerous facts about how harmful empathy can be. I never thought that people could be too empathetic, but this book has me second guessing that! This was well written and provided new insight into empathy for me.
Carrie Brang
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
The title was well researched, but I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the thesis. I get it, but what is the point?
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