New books

Simon Baron-Cohen’s new book “Zero degrees of empathy” seems to be selling well – it was sold out at Daunt Books in Belsize Park yesterday so I ordered online (sorry to  bookshops but there are not many near me). His argument, apparently, is that we should replace the idea of evil because we know now about empathy and how some people ‘have’ less than others. I am looking forward to reading it but am a bit sceptical — can moral decisions be reduced to genetic or neurological capacities? Or are they different kinds of things? More later, when the book comes.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying Julian Baggini’s “The Ego Trick” which caught my eye in Blackwells in Oxford earlier in the week (there is a paradise for those who love books!). He is describing current thinking about the self, and I need to sort out the role of the self in empathy.  A core issue for me is that empathy is about the Self taking the perspective of the Other, which suggests they are separate. And people with a strong sense of self can do empathy better than those who lose themselves in the Other. But, we only know ourselves as Selves through comparing and contrasting with Others, so we depend on the Other to have a sense of ourSelf.  I need to disentangle this knot and I think Baggini’s book will help.

So far, he distinguishes a ‘core self’ from an ‘autobiographical self’ partly on the basis of different areas and ages of the human brain…


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