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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Expansive empathy : normative and descriptive considerations for the cultivation of empathy Hrincu, Viorica


My aim is to understand what it means when we ask people to have more empathy. ‘More’ refers to an increment, but what this increment is has yet to be specified. To some people it may be sufficient to be more empathetic to their family and friends. To others, more empathy means connecting and understanding strangers or people who are different from ourselves. Underpinning these tendencies are biases that draw us towards those individuals with whom we can easily identify or are part of the same in-group. This is something to consider when choosing instruments to measure empathy, most of which are self-reported measures. There are two new scales that seem to capture the role of identity and its relationship to empathy in different but important ways: The Moral Expansiveness Scale (Crimston et al., 2016) and the Empathy Gradient Questionnaire (Hollar, 2017). This is an emerging area of research that uses scales that systematize the closeness of an individual (target of empathy) to the empathizer. Importantly, these discussions of what is essentially empathy enhancement inevitably leads to normative questions such as: ‘What is an appropriate level of empathy?’ or more generally ‘What is an appropriate amount of moral concern?’ In response, I frame the normative side of the discussion within a virtue ethics perspective to shift the focus away from ‘how much’ empathy to the quality of empathy. The question of an ideal is at the heart of a virtue ethics approach: how to navigate one’s moral circle in the healthiest way that encourages flourishing for ourselves and the objects of our moral concern. Continuing to understand and promote empathy means we must also understand what it means to be more or less empathetic.

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