Empathy : a multidisciplinary approach
Devay, Monique V.
Thesis (M.A.L.S.)--Georgetown University, 2010.; Includes bibliographical references.; Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format. My argument in the present paper concerns the correlation of emotions with empathy, that of empathy with morals, and morals with religions. In particular, I argue that empathy is founded on emotions, and in turn, empathy provides the foundation for morals which in turn, is foundational for all religious traditions. My argument is informed by evolutionary animal psychology and by recent advances in basic biological and social neuroscience.; After defining the terms used in this paper and some general remarks, first, I will provide evidence for animal empathy, cooperation, and sociality. I shall give special consideration to the metaphoric Russian Doll model of empathy as conceived by the internationally renowned Dutch primatologist, Frans de Waal.; Then, I shall briefly describe the anatomic structures, and their evolutionary development, including the `mirror neurons,' recently discovered and described by Italian neuroscientists Marco Iacoboni and others, as well as the physiologic functions of specific brain regions that give rise to empathetic feelings. I shall demonstrate how this `bottom-up' evolution of emotional empathy is preceding the cognitive overlays and `top-down' cognitive enhancements of the human moral sense.; Next, I will discuss the priority of morals to all religious traditions, and the role of empathy, compassion and altruism in the charitable behavior promoted by various world religions. In a dynamic approach, I will highlight both the negative and positive role of religious faith influencing compassion and altruism toward group members and possibly toward outsiders, even toward adversaries and enemies. I will discuss how fundamentalist faith, as an ideology (idea + logos), whether theistic or atheistic, is less than beneficial, and potentially even harmful, for emotional empathy to evolve into ever more compassion and altruism in ever more inclusive human relationships. I will point to the Golden Rule as the foundation of a harm-based morality, independent of any particular theistic belief.; Empathy, being an innate emotional capacity has the potential for being used, and abused, precisely through its `top-down' cognitive layers, for sinister purposes, such as by some psychopathic political leaders, or by some common people in our daily lives.; For a final synthesis, I shall argue that while religious beliefs are not necessarily and unequivocally beneficial for the cultivation of empathy, they can play a positive role in encouraging compassion and love not only for members of one's own group, but for outsiders, strangers, adversaries, and even for enemies. In this regard, Buddhist and Christian meditative practices have shown specific positive results.; The intentional cultivation of empathy, compassion and altruism, can greatly contribute to the morally good life as proposed by Aristotle and discussed by Kant. Also, according to St. Francis of Assisi, it is through giving that we receive - which sentiment is now supported by evidence of basic and social neuroscience that have shown through physiologic and psychometric measurements that being good and acting generously - really feels natural and good.
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