Against Empathy p.169

Then there is a confusion about psychology. The claim that we actually only care about survival and reproduction confuses the goals of natural selection (again, metaphorically speaking) with the goals of the creatures who have evolved through natural selection, including us. The difference between the two is obvious when you think about other domains. From the perspective of natural selection, the “goal” of eating is to sustain the body, to keep it going so that the genes we carry can replicate themselves. But this isn’t what motivates dogs, ants, tigers, and people to eat. We eat because we’re hungry, or bored, or anxious, or want to be good guests, or hate ourselves, or whatever. There are no deep teleological musings about genetic survival running through our heads as we dig into a bag of potato chips. As William James put it, if you ask your average man why he eats, “instead of revering you as a philosopher, he will probably laugh at you as a fool.”

Similarly, there is an obvious evolutionary motivation for sexual intercourse (it leads to children), but this is very different from the psychological motivations for sex, which most of the time don’t include a desire to have children. Surely this is true for other species: When mice mate, they don’t consciously intend to make more mice.

And the same consideration hold for kindness. We are naturally kind because our ancestors who were kind to others outlived and outreproduced those who didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that when people help others they are thinking about survival and reproduction any more than when people eat and have sex they are thinking about survival and reproduction. Rather, evolution has shaped people to be altruistic by instilling within us a genuine concern for the fate of certain other individuals, by making us compassionate and caring.


Paul Bloom – Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion p.169


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