Empathy as ‘the core of our humanity’

“Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.”

Novelist Ian McEwan wrote this in an inspiring and poetic response to 9/11 in  The Guardian (15 September, 2001).

However, his point was that the 9/11 terrorists must have lacked imagination to be able to carry out their attacks. If they had imagined the plight of their victims, his argument goes, they would have felt compassion and this might have stopped them. There is a worse possibility though. Perhaps they did indeed imagine how it would be for the victims, but this imagining did not prevent action; it may indeed have supported their action in their own minds.

Does empathy always result in compassion and morality?  Or are compassion and morality needed first, in order to respond to empathy?


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