Against Empathy Book Summary - Against Empathy Book explained in key points
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Against Empathy summary

Paul Bloom

The Case for Rational Compassion

4.3 (171 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

'Against Empathy' by Paul Bloom argues that empathy, our tendency to feel the emotions of others, can lead to irrational and ineffective decision making. Instead, he advocates for a more rational and compassionate approach to moral decision making.

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    Against Empathy
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    Empathy is an emotional response that allows us to understand and feel what others go through.

    You often hear the word empathy being used in conversation, likely about some heartless person who could use more of it. But what exactly is this valuable emotional resource?

    Empathy is defined as an ability to understand and share the feelings or situation which another person is going through.

    To see empathy in practice, we might look at the aftermath following a public tragedy like the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where 20 children were killed by gunman Adam Lanza on December 14, 2012.

    Immediately upon hearing this news, the author’s wife felt the need to visit the school which their own kids attended, even though there was little reason to think they’d be in danger.

    Later that day, the author stopped for a coffee, and at the cafe, there was a woman weeping. She didn’t know any of the victims of the shooting, but she also had kids the same age and felt devastated.

    When President Obama made a public address to share his sympathies about the tragedy, he too was in tears.

    In all of these cases, we see people with children finding it very easy to put themselves in the shoes of the parents in Newton who’d lost their sons and daughters.

    These are examples of emotional empathy. Emotional empathy differs from cognitive empathy, which is the ability to understand a person’s emotional state without feeling it yourself.

    Cognitive empathy is what con artists and bullies use to understand a victim’s weakness and exploit it. Unlike emotional empathy, they don’t feel their victim’s pain, but they can take advantage of it.

    Emotional empathy can also manifest itself in physical ways. You might see someone take a hard fall, hit their head, and then yourself feel pain in the same spot where the poor stranger injured himself. Similarly, the writer John Updike described feeling a tightness in his throat whenever his grandmother had one of her “choking fits” at the dinner table.

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    What is Against Empathy about?

    Against Empathy (2016) provides a wealth of scientific research to show empathy for what it really is: a flawed emotional reaction that has led countless people to make bad decisions. While many voices have called for others to have more empathy, Paul Bloom shows us that empathy can make things worse rather than better.

    Against Empathy Review

    Against Empathy (2016) by Paul Bloom challenges the widely held belief that empathy is a necessary virtue and argues for a more rational and compassionate society. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • With compelling arguments and thorough research, it sheds light on the potential negative impact of excessive empathy on decision-making and morality.
    • By exploring controversial topics such as politics, justice, and parenting, the book offers provocative insights that will challenge readers' perspectives and encourage critical thinking.
    • Through engaging storytelling and real-life examples, it presents a thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating exploration of empathy that is far from boring.

    Who should read Against Empathy?


    • Students of psychology and philosophy
    • Readers who want to learn more about empathy
    • Fans of true crime stories

    About the Author

    Paul Bloom is a professor at Yale University and a leading psychologist who specializes in the study of how ethics, religion and language influence people’s perceptions. His writing has been published in leading outlets such as the New York Times, the Guardian and Slate. He is the author of Just Babies, How Pleasure Works and Descartes’ Baby.

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    Against Empathy FAQs 

    What is the main message of Against Empathy?

    The main message of Against Empathy is to question the value and impact of empathy in our lives.

    How long does it take to read Against Empathy?

    The reading time for Against Empathy varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Against Empathy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Against Empathy is a thought-provoking and insightful book that challenges our assumptions about empathy. It's definitely worth reading.

    Who is the author of Against Empathy?

    Paul Bloom is the author of Against Empathy.

    What to read after Against Empathy?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Against Empathy, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Age of Empathy by Frans de Waal
    • Social Empathy by Elizabeth Segal
    • The Sweet Spot by Paul Bloom
    • Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg
    • Discipline Is Destiny by Ryan Holiday
    • I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) by Brené Brown
    • How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less by Nicholas Boothman
    • The Overthinking In Relationships Fix by Rodney Noble
    • Psych by Paul Bloom
    • Fight Right by Julie Schwartz Gottman