Yale psychologist Paul Bloom is making a case against empathy when it comes to ethical deliberation and action. According to Bloom, emotional empathy has a dark side because it causes an in-group bias that leads to parochialism and racism. Our helping behavior is selectively aimed at those like us and, as a result, blinds us to the suffering in distant global settings. In arriving at his position, Bloom provides support from Buddhist philosophy and practice that make his argument even more relevant to multicultural and global dialogue. This paper offers response to Bloom's criticisms by unveiling the limits of cognitive approach that he recommends. Evidence from studies in neuroscience demonstrates that cognition and emotions are inseparable, and both could lead to bias. Furthermore, Bloom's interpretation of Buddhist thought and practice is questioned. Likewise, his suspicion of emotions while relying on impartiality of cognitive processes is found problematic due to the dualistic nature of his argument that elevates rationality over emotions. Instead, this paper proposes an alternative interpretation of Buddhist philosophy and meditation that might provide valuable resources for less biased prosocial action. Based on recent findings, it is argued that Buddhist-derived, secular forms of mindfulness and compassion meditations might offer helpful strategies in countering racial and in-group bias when helping others as well as lessen exhaustion and burnout in prosocial work.


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pp. 403-417
Launched on MUSE
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