In defense of empathy: A response to Prinz

Claudia Passos-Ferreira


A prevailing view in moral psychology holds that empathy and sympathy play key roles in
morality and in prosocial and altruistic actions. Recently, Jesse Prinz (2011a, 2011b) has
challenged this view and has argued that empathy does not play a foundational or causal
role in morality. He suggests that in fact the presence of empathetic emotions is harmful to
morality. Prinz rejects all theories that connect empathy and morality as a constitutional,
epistemological, developmental, motivational, or normative necessity. I consider two of
Prinz’s theses: the thesis that empathy is not necessary for moral development, and the
thesis that empathy should be avoided as a guide for morality. Based on recent research
in moral psychology, I argue that empathy plays a crucial role in development of moral
agency. I also argue that empathy is desirable as a moral emotion.


empathy; morality; J. Prinz; moral development


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