The following article in this week’s New Yorker by Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has been circulating in social networks:
Despite what many of us on this blog might initially wonder, the title of the paper does not refer to Mencius’s famous thought experiment. (Instead, it refers to the famous case of an actual child in a well that led to a worldwide media circus in the 1980s.) Nonetheless, the article may be of interest to those of us working in Confucian ethics and moral psychology.
Specifically, the article’s claims about the limits of empathy are germane to the Confucian ideal of graded love/concern. There is also discussion of how empathy can lead us to make moral judgments or support social policies that, upon reflection, are ill-advised. Empathy is a powerful and important moral emotion, but it can also draw our attention away from more important issues to (comparatively) less important, particular cases.
These issues will be familiar to most of us, but the article is worth a read nonetheless. (The article also contains at least one obviously ungrammatical sentence. Can you spot it?)