Suppose we would have enough empathy to understand each other in any circumstance. Wouldn't all the discussion of any problem resolve to free will(of the participants of the problem) only?

Would, in that case, make sense to split people's actions into bad or good?

By "problem", I mean a situation in which, one breaks a rule(violates the ethical code) with respect to the authority(the ones promulgating the ethical code).

  • "Understand each other in any circumstance" -> Does this include people I've never met and never will, but whose lives will be affected by my actions? That would be a pretty extreme version of 'empathy' rhyming with 'omniscient', or else it would refer to our rational abilities of which ethics is a product. Nov 22 '14 at 2:05
  • "extreme version of 'empathy'", Then who draws the line on empathy? Will it be me? Will it be someone with more firearms? Nov 22 '14 at 21:11
  • "Empathy with extreme prejudice", lol. I just meant what you are suggesting stretches the bounds of the physical organism unless it's essentially synonymous with an ability to reason, hypothesize, project, weigh consequences, etc. -- an ability which might augment itself through experience and become engaged in developmental, reflexive social discourse. I.e., ethics. I'm not disagreeing on principle; I'm saying you might as easily suggest that the existence of ethics is indicative of our capacity to empathize... Nov 22 '14 at 21:43
  • ...Put another way, if I am a supremely empathetic being but imperfect in other ways (I get tired, sometimes I get intoxicated, my perception can be flawed, I can be distracted, overcome emotionally, etc. etc.), would consciously developing and deploying an ethical philosophy to check my decisions make me less empathetic to others? Or just more self-aware WRT my own limitations? If ethics helps us to extend our ability to act empathetically, then it's not a lack of empathy that causes us to be interested in ethics. Nov 22 '14 at 21:57
  • I see that we strongly disagree on the cause of the existence of ethics... Add to that the relationship between ethics and empathy..." I'm saying you might as easily suggest that the existence of ethics is indicative of our capacity to empathize"... I do not see it this way, probably because I've chosen other statements to be true, and those have led me to the disagreement. I'll have one more try to make it clear what I had in mind... Take the nice suburban moms and ask one of them why didn't she end up on streets. Most of them will tell you that the homeless people make mistakes and that she Nov 22 '14 at 22:09

I would say that if that were true, we would always be certain of the morality of every one of our own actions.

Perfect empathy with perfect communication would simply reduce an individual human into the collective of humanity in emotional terms. But since we are not always perfectly certain relative to ourselves, this combined whole would still not be certain of its correctness, and it would still need an ethics.

Perfect empathy with imperfect communication gives us yet another reasons to doubt our collective decision making. You still need a way to determine what to do when you understand the other person completely, but you are not certain you have all the information they have or that they have all the information you have, and you cannot be certain that you can correct that situation.

So the assumption of perfect empathy alone still has two strikes against it as a basis for replacing ethics.


To understand, does not mean to forgive.

Let's go to definitions of Empathy:

Empathy is the capacity to share or recognize emotions experienced by another sentient or fictional being.

and Ethics:

Ethics, sometimes known as moral philosophy', is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defending and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct

As you can see, concepts of Empathy and Ethics are orthogonal - Recognizing emotions of other people and evaluate your future actions against some system of values.

So, from the logical point of view, its perfectly OK, for human being to, just for example, understand the pain of others, and keep inflicting it at same time.

And NO, existance of ethics, does not imply the lack of empathy in humans.

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