Welcome to Objectivism Online Forum

Welcome to Objectivism Online, a forum for discussing the philosophy of Ayn Rand. For full access, register via Facebook or email.

DiscoveryJoy

The dilemma of choosing empathy

Rate this topic

23 posts in this topic

Hey guys,

do you agree that empathy for other people is something we have to choose to engage in? That it is not automatic? And that it should be chosen for those that you care about? And if you don't do so, it automatically means you don't care about that person?

Do you also agree that once you have embarked on the path of empathy in a case where you see someone under extreme suffering (like being burned alive or being physically tortured in the most ugly way) - whether friend, stranger or foe - it is impossible to maintain focus on any actual values except the need to be free from such pain? That it is psychologically impossible to empathize with the person in the scene and not feel an urge to end that suffering immediately? An urge that overrides anything else in your mind, no matter what positive values to your own life you would have to sacrifice for that? I could also ask: Do you agree that the most horrible pain is stronger than the highest pleasure, so both cannot be experienced simultaneously for weighing the pros and cons? Or I could ask: Do you agree that the only reason we can stand seeing Hitler tortured is because we don't feel any need to empathize with him?

 

So now: What if - for some odd reason, be it like living under a dictatorship etc. - you had to make an explicit choice between being able to making love to someone or something you really enjoy most in life, or saving someone else that you are close to - maybe your parent or one of your siblings - from such extreme torture that he would otherwise have to endure for the rest of his life. To put it bluntly, your dictator has captured your close brother and says (and you have no prospect of escaping the country or winning a rebellion etc.):

"You either give up any contact with your most sacred earthly pleasures and shun any contact with the opposite sex for the rest of your life, or we will physically torture your brother and physically harm him for the rest of his life, permanently, making sure he's fouled up beyond all recognition!" So it's a pure either-or choice.

The reason I'm making up this scenario is not because I'm crazy, afraid it might happen, or think it is anywhere near likely to happen. But it couldn't be better suited for self-testing on values. It is not easy to really prove your values when there is no real conflict, so you have to come up with the most extreme scenario thinkable, however bizarre that may be. So unless you have any objections to the physical possibility of this scenario, please don't pester me with questions about "why would this happen".

When making a decision here, the following things come to my mind:

Should the amount of suffering that the brother has to endure play any role whatsoever in this decision making? Is absence of pain for someone you care about itself already a value? If yes, what would you have do to assess the situation? Wouldn't it mean you would have to try to simulate the pain in order to get some taste of what it is like? In order to achieve the maximum amount of empathy that you can still undergo without seriously harming yourself? That is, trying to put your hand on the stove for a little bit longer? Or putting the shower at maximum heat level and leave it that way until you're close to burning and run screaming out of the shower? Or hitting yourself into the balls until you almost loose conscience? Just to name a few things, and just to get an idea about what the brother would have to endure on a daily basis all the time. After all, you care about him, right, so you need to stay in the reality of his suffering. None of these simple pains like getting an injection, having a headache or a stomach ache, or stumbling and falling to the floor. Those pains are so common and known to you, you can easily expect someone to tolerate them. No! We are talking about the real  pain here, and it's huge! Nothing you can easily imagine and just brush off as endurable. We're talking about the kind of pain that makes you wish to die immediately, if it doesn't stop right now! But your torturers will never grant you that wish. You cannot really know this pain because it would make your life unworthy of living. So you actually need to learn about it by experiencing it first hand as far as you have the nerves to. But then again, if it is psychologically impossible to maintain a focus on your own positive values that way, wouldn't this be the wrong approach? This would always mean, the brother wins.

Or should you ask yourself the following first: How much is the other person worth to you independent of the amount of his suffering, that is, just in terms of how much his existence as a person means to you? Don't look at his suffering, don't look at his pain, just evaluate what you gain from him compared to what you gain from making love to a partner. Well in this case, the partner wins, of course.

But then, assuming you choose the partner, you still have to psychologically deal with your brother anyway: With the fact of his suffering and the idea that you are restricting yourself from helping him. And in order to allow yourself the status of "I care about him, he means something to me", you really need to grasp the reality of his suffering, so you still have to empathize, and in order to empathize you have to put yourself under the aforementioned physical pain, too, in order to really get the picture. Which again would lead you to reversing your choice, the pain is so unbearable. Or committing suicide, because it's so unbearable regularly undergoing all these self-torture sessions just to stay in reality. The other option is - having chosen your partner - to psychologically treat your brother like a stranger and engage in no empathy for him for the rest of your life, to completely forget about him, pretend like he doesn't exist, in order to make the time with your partner worthwhile. Because otherwise, it would be "plus" the joy with your partner and "minus" the extreme pain you feel for your brother, which boils down to a zero sum - or rather negative sum - game. You would have to pretend like he died, even though this would mean you are doing something at least close to evading. In one sentence: You care about him, but you have to act opposite. Would this be the best thing to do?

If, on the other hand, you were to choose your brother, you sure wouldn't have to deal with the pain problem and could spare yourself all your self-torture sessions. But now you have a bad conscience, because you have placed your brother above your partner. "It shouldn't have been him, it should have been my partner!", you revolt in deep shame. You have given up your highest value and most likely will contemplate suicide out of misery and due to the prospect of never being happy again.

Which approach do you think is the proper one? Or would you just brush off the whole situation as one of those so-called "lifeboat situations" to which morality doesn't even apply?

Also, do you think this is a perfect demonstration of why Bentham's calculus of value doesn't really work?

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, DiscoveryJoy said:

If, on the other hand, you were to choose your brother, you sure wouldn't have to deal with the pain problem and could spare yourself all your self-torture sessions. But now you have a bad conscience, because you have placed your brother above your partner. "It shouldn't have been him, it should have been my partner!", you revolt in deep shame. You have given up your highest value and most likely will contemplate suicide out of misery and due to the prospect of never being happy again.

Just continuing with this approach, you might tell yourself:

"No, actually I haven't betrayed my values! My partner is more valuable to me than my brother! But unfortunately, I would have never been able to really enjoy that value anyway, because the pain about my brother would have killed all the joy. Not because I value him more than my partner, but because such pain - if really grasped and held in the mind in its full reality - is always stronger than anything. Nobody can enjoy pleasure in the presence of such pain. Forget about my brother, ignore his pain? You can't treat someone so close just like that! He would have been much worse off than my partner is right now. At least I've considered both as much as I can, expressing my concern for them in action. Now there's nothing left for me that will bring me ultimate happiness ever again, so I still have to die now. But I'll die in honor of having prevented loved ones from harm."

But whether this is merely a rationalization I cannot tell.

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some very good questions, though you drift overly into concrete instances towards the end!

"Empathy" that much used and abused concept, which is lumped together with compassion and pity, is also seen with actions of animals who perceive another animal's distress/injury. I think that as rational animals, at that biological, survival level, man also responds to others' pain . He has, of course much more, too: he is able to *identify* human suffering far beyond the simply physical, and is able to 'place himself' in an other's position and 'feel with' him. So I do believe human empathy (which I think of as fellow-feeling) is basically "automatic", but more critically it is a response by one's conscious value in man's life.

So it is all well and good to experience empathy - but as you indicate, what can one DO about it?

Very rarely can one do much, or anything to alleviate many others' suffering, and to believe one can and should attempt this as a compassionate duty, is certainly the path to unearned guilt, self-conflict, frustration and finally a sacrifice of one's values. (As well as destroying one's empathic feelings).

"Value" rather answers the rest you ask. The pain one feels for someone else in emotional, psychological and mental distress - here, whom one values/loves - would be of a far higher order to one you don't know, haven't evaluated, and therefore can't individually value (except generally, as fellow human being). He/she is your "chosen" value, and your great loyalty.

And holding an explicitly clear hierarchy of values too, is essential in sorting out any temporary conflicts between one's values.

I suspect that where altruists - those 'professional' empathists - purposely try to blur the line and claim the moral high ground, is between their duty-based imperative to 'value' unknown people, en masse, equally or moreso than the "selfish" value an egoist places in the lives of specific individuals. (As he does in the selfish, top value he places in his own life).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/9/2016 at 5:42 PM, whYNOT said:

Some very good questions, though you drift overly into concrete instances towards the end!

Well, I the questions in the first two paragraphs where actually meant only as an intro to check certain premises first, the concrete instance stating the problem case and possible solutions was then meant to be the main part

On 2/9/2016 at 5:42 PM, whYNOT said:

"Empathy" that much used and abused concept, which is lumped together with compassion and pity, is also seen with actions of animals who perceive another animal's distress/injury. I think that as rational animals, at that biological, survival level, man also responds to others' pain . He has, of course much more, too: he is able to *identify* human suffering far beyond the simply physical, and is able to 'place himself' in an other's position and 'feel with' him. So I do believe human empathy (which I think of as fellow-feeling) is basically "automatic", but more critically it is a response by one's conscious value in man's life.

So it is all well and good to experience empathy - but as you indicate, what can one DO about it?

Well if "empathy" is to be understood just on the sensual level, without the conceptual awareness of the fact that you are experiencing the pain of another conscious being, then what I mean is not just empathy, but really, as you call it, "feeling with him". How can "feeling with him" even be automatic, if it requires the conceptual level of consciousness and if the conceptual level of consciousness is non-automatic?

Well, for one part, identifying the other person as a conscious being, is kinda "automatic at sight", right? I mean due to our pre-conceptions, since we have to identify the attribute of consciousness in other human beings all the time in order to survive. You cannot look at a real person and seriously believe he is not real, as in "Well, maybe let's examine this object over there, there's really nothing I actually know about it right now, could it be the case that it is conscious?". But well, in the broader sense, it is not automatic, not deterministic, since we are responsible for our pre-conceptions, right?

But then again, even in the narrower sense of "automatic": Is the fact that we attribute the felt pain to something that he, the conscious being, is going through, really automatic? Because if it were automatic, wouldn't we have to feel this pain at every sight, regardless of who the victim is? Obviously we do not, as you also agree:

On 2/9/2016 at 5:42 PM, whYNOT said:

"Value" rather answers the rest you ask. The pain one feels for someone else in emotional, psychological and mental distress - here, whom one values/loves - would be of a far higher order to one you don't know, haven't evaluated, and therefore can't individually value (except generally, as fellow human being). He/she is your "chosen" value, and your great loyalty.

Well, yes that's what experience says, but how does it actually work? My point is, that it seems to me we need to willfully shut down on identifying the reality of his pain first. Like we know there's something there, but we don't want to grasp it. Because we don't feel the person deserves it to be grasped or because the situation warrants that we better not grasp it. We're either blanking it out or not even letting it in in the first place. Not because it is impossible to "feel with him". In any case, we are out of touch with some part of the actual reality. In order to make room for some other aspects of the reality, namely the evaluation of the person and the situation. As for being out of touch because of evaluating the person, that's easy to digest. But as for being out of touch only because of the situation, that's still a huge problem in the long run:

I think my problem is that in the conflict case I described ("brother versus partner"), it is impossible to do justice to the brother, because that would actually require you to feel with him, which would automatically entail certain actions. But in the case stated, you can't afford to take those actions, so you can't even afford to feel with him. Isn't this a conflict of virtue?

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

DJ, remember that we have in common with animals the senses and percepts, so can 'recognize' at the perceptual, preconceptual level, cries of distress, physical injury, and visual clues of abnormal locomotion, and 'feel with' an other's pain. An animal however lacks further comprehension. (Not to suggest that it's often that animals in that situation will be disturbed or appear 'empathic' -- and predatory animals of course get their meals from injured prey!)

For man, there follows a conceptual and evaluative cognition of an other's suffering, and an immediate and automated (according to one's metaphysical view of existence) emotional response. If one holds man's life as the standard of value, that emotion here would be of an appropriately negative, feel bad, kind .

I just can't see any conflict, more of an instant 'flow' from percept to integrated concept, to value assessment, to emotion. Emotion isn't a cognitive tool and shouldn't be directly acted upon, but one's subsequent, conscious value-perceived, can and should.

I don't know if this helps and welcome anyone's input.
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't really understand the question, it's jumping all over the place. You may want to read up on cognitive versus affective empathy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy

You're seeming to ask: "what's worse, knowing a high value is suffering, or losing a higher value?". In the long-run, losing a higher value is worse. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Question: Imagine the situation were reversed, and the woman you love was forced to cut ties with you in order to protect someone else she cared about. Would you have a desire to continue the relationship at that point?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/11/2016 at 7:52 PM, Eiuol said:

I don't really understand the question, it's jumping all over the place. You may want to read up on cognitive versus affective empathy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empathy

If I try to apply the terms "affective empathy" versus "cognitive empathy" to our scenario, it seems to me that you cannot aquire the latter without the former. Just for the same reasons that abstractions are just floating abstractions without a perceptual basis in reality.

If you are going to understand what permanent severe pain really means, you first need to have experienced some taste of it yourself. Only then can you be affected by someone else's emotional state of such pain. And only than can you arrive at real cognitive empathy in this field. Otherwise you' would just be trying to extrapolate from insignificant data, trying to conceive of something that our brain cannot really construct, I believe. There are limits to our imagination. Possibly because we would be causing way too much damage to our own brain if there weren't.

That's how it seems to me. Hope I'm getting the terms right. Let me know, if you think I'm not.

 

On 2/11/2016 at 7:52 PM, Eiuol said:

You're seeming to ask: "what's worse, knowing a high value is suffering, or losing a higher value?". In the long-run, losing a higher value is worse. 

 

Yes, that's it in a nutshell! Interesting, that you seem to agree on a distinction between (A) a value being present, (B) a value being absent and (C) a value suffering. Do you agree then, that "a value suffering" really is a third valid category that must be substracted from a value being present?

For example, let's say, you love listening to music, but due to some incurable ear-malfunctioning starting at some point in life, every time you did, the music vibrations at the same time would cause you an unbearable pain in your ear. So it's plus the music (A), but minus the pain (C), which results in a deep minus: Because first, the pain distracts you so much that you cannot even focus on the music to gain joy in it anymore, which reduces (A) to zero, resulting in (B). And second, the pain also acts as "the pain" (C), which brings the whole equation even further down into the real negative.

 

Or would you say: "No, this is all wrong, there are really just two categories, (A) and (B). And that which you call 'a value suffering' is really just an example of (B), namely a 'value of painlessness being absent'." Would that be a better statement on the existing categories?

But then, is it really proper to talk about "absence of pain" as an actual (A)-type value like this? After all, already linguistically, it doesn't denote any existant, it's just a negation of an existant. Or isn't it rather to be seen as a necessary prerequisite of value in order for us to be able to enjoy values at all? Not really a value itself at all? Not really "more important than other values", meaning you just can't even compare it to values? But if lacking, if "absence of pain" is lacking, it unfortunately acts as a pure destructor of the actual values?

 

You say that in the long run, losing a higher value is worse. In my scenario, though, the value suffering is permanent due to the intention of the tormentor, so how do you even distinguish between "the short term" and "the long run" here?

The only way of making the long run any different than the short term seems to be - as I said -, maybe after a period of mental suffering and accepting the situation, to treat the victim like a stranger for the rest of his life. You would have to do so by cutting down on emotional empathy on him and just simply learn to forget about him. If necessary, go into psychotherapy to brainwash yourself into believing he never existed and doesn't exist right now? But wouldn't this be evasion then?

Or should such a reaction instead be called "a justified emergency solution"? Which brings me back to one of my previous questions, namely, if the whole question is analogous to a lifeboat scenario question, in which no answer is right or wrong, morality simply cannot be applied to such a situation?

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, Eamon Arasbard said:

Question: Imagine the situation were reversed, and the woman you love was forced to cut ties with you in order to protect someone else she cared about. Would you have a desire to continue the relationship at that point?

Well, first of all, what would there be left to do if she had already made the decision for me? But probably what you are asking is "Would you think that the relationship has been a lie all along then?"

I have asked myself the same question already. But then I thought: Answering that would require making a judgement on her decision, considering what she had to deal with. Which again requires first knowing how I myself would have decided. Which again requires sorting out categories first. Categories in the way I'm trying to do in my most recent reply to Eioul, which you will find very relevant.

So if you just say "in order to protect someone else she cared about", I'm asking myself whether it's really just "in order to protect" or whether it's "in order to prevent severe permanent pain to him which she herself wouldn't be able to ignore"? Provided, of course, it really makes sense to distinguish such categories, which you can read in my post.

What I have asked myself also is: Imagine the situation was even more extreme and both were in need of being saved from exactly the same kind of suffering. But I could save only one. In this case it's much easier to say "I'll save the woman.". Because you can really compare apples to apples, i.e. "a value suffering (her)" to "a value suffering (him)", which are equal in degree in this case, so you can't decide with that. So the apples being equal, you can only move on comparing the pears to the pears, i.e. "loosing a higher value being present" (her) to "loosing a lesser value being present" (him), which are clearly different, so you are more justified in saving her than in saving him.

 

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/9/2016 at 5:42 PM, whYNOT said:

Very rarely can one do much, or anything to alleviate many others' suffering, and to believe one can and should attempt this as a compassionate duty, is certainly the path to unearned guilt, self-conflict, frustration and finally a sacrifice of one's values. (As well as destroying one's empathic feelings).

Interesting. Never thought of the term of "compassionate duty". How do you draw the line between compassionate duty and a legitimate attempt at knowing the reality of the pain that someone you care about is going through? To what extend would inflicting physical pain onto oneself in order to grasp the nature of his pain, i.e. to stay in touch with that reality, be justified? And wouldn't it be an act of evasion not to make such an attempt?

Why would it lead to destroying one's empathic feelings, if you're actually providing yourself with more sense data? Shouldn't it rather enhance those feelings?

On 2/11/2016 at 7:07 PM, whYNOT said:

"Value" rather answers the rest you ask. The pain one feels for someone else in emotional, psychological and mental distress - here, whom one values/loves - would be of a far higher order to one you don't know, haven't evaluated, and therefore can't individually value (except generally, as fellow human being). He/she is your "chosen" value, and your great loyalty.

Yes, but the choice in the scenario is not simply between "preventing physical pain for someone you don't know or care less about" and "preventing the same pain for someone one loves". That choice would be easy.

The choice in the scenario is a mutually exclusive choice between "preventing physical pain for someone you care less about" and "staying with someone you love". If you follow my answer to Eiuol, you'll see how I'm attempting to consider pain as a third category alongside "value being present" and "value being absent". Pain as kind of a negative influence in the equation. One that substracts from the value. Even more so in case of the most extreme pain.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/11/2016 at 7:07 PM, whYNOT said:

I just can't see any conflict, more of an instant 'flow' from percept to integrated concept, to value assessment, to emotion. Emotion isn't a cognitive tool and shouldn't be directly acted upon, but one's subsequent, conscious value-perceived, can and should.
 

What about the anti-value perception, the pain? Grasping it requires perceiving it and allowing the instant flow you describe to happen. Then comparing it against a positive value requires recreating that space in your mind. Which requires shutting down the previous negative emotion. Which requires blanking out the percept that created it, to prevent this overwhelming instant flow. Which means being left with no two things to compare any more, just one.

It seems to be impossible to hold both the extreme negative and the extreme positive in consciousness simultaneously. That's where I see the conflict.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/28/2016 at 6:52 PM, DiscoveryJoy said:

Grasping it requires perceiving it and allowing the instant flow you describe to happen. Then comparing it against a positive value requires recreating that space in your mind. Which requires shutting down the previous negative emotion. Which requires blanking out the percept that created it, to prevent this overwhelming instant flow. Which means being left with no two things to compare any more, just one.

I don't know why you think emotions need to work this way. A constant presence of a negative emotion at this level is more like PTSD, which is caused by trauma. Generally, an emotion is quick. Although emotions aren't perceptual, they only last as long as a few moments. This isn't some special knowledge, at some point or another people learn to control their response to emotions. You can also think about emotions later without feeling them now, that's how memory is helpful. This is similar to seeing a bird. You don't need to literally see birds to think about birds. Conceptual thought is your answer. To say recreating an emotional space is required to judge emotions is like saying concrete-bound thinking is superior to conceptual thought.

It's okay to empathize, but it doesn't need to be constant.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I don't know why you think emotions need to work this way. A constant presence of a negative emotion at this level is more like PTSD, which is caused by trauma.

Well it depends on 1) for what length of time you choose to empathize and 2) whether you are the one in trouble, doesn't it?

12 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Generally, an emotion is quick. Although emotions aren't perceptual, they only last as long as a few moments.

Emotions are quick? Only a few moments?

Are you saying that most of the time in our lives there's nothing really to enjoy?

And are you saying that if thrown and locked into cell with a 100 degree Celsius hot floor for hours, it will all be over "quickly"? Well I believe you, if the pain made you unconscious after a few moments, its so unbearable. But otherwise? You're kidding, right? ;-) I hope you agree that this example, too, deals with emotions? Emotions that arise from the pain in an instant flow, as you put it. Sorry I'm getting too graphical again. Just trying to make sure we are on the same page.


I'll get to the rest later. Meanwhile I'd also be very interested in what you think about my attempts at categorizing into (A), (B) and (C) and my thoughts on those categories in my previous answer (see second part of the post):

 

 

 

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Emotions aren't able to be controlled immediately, but it's plenty possible to control continuing to feel it. Your example of being thrown into a cell is an example of trauma, so that is especially hard to control over time. Either way, you don't need to be literally feeling equivalent emotions at once in order to think about them.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Emotions aren't able to be controlled immediately, but it's plenty possible to control continuing to feel it. Your example of being thrown into a cell is an example of trauma, so that is especially hard to control over time. Either way, you don't need to be literally feeling equivalent emotions at once in order to think about them.

So let's get back to the scenario in a less graphical way, because your mentioning of trauma suggests to me that you are still picturing the scenario the wrong way:

The scenario is such, that there isn't even any time for trauma, the victim is being tortured in perpetuity, while you as a closely related person have to deal with it in perpetuity. So there is no "after the event" like a trauma, because there is no single "event", just ongoing torture for the rest of the victim's life.

So you as the observer have to decide: Stay with the partner and deal with the emotional consequences or save the victim and loose the partner.

Option 1 forces you to make another decision: Endure the empathic pain all the time as an expression of personal concern for the victim while watching yourself doing nothing against it, which makes the relationship with the partner suffer severely if even still enjoyable at all. Or mentally part with the victim and forget about him so he no longer takes your energy, which means treating him injustly, evading?

Option 2 forces you to ask yourself the question: Do you need to have a bad conscience? Does your decision necessarily mean that you have treated the victim as more "valuable" to you than the partner? Or is it fair to say that the necessary empathic pain would have just been such a drain on the relationship that it could no longer have been enjoyable? Even though the victim per se is not as valuable to you as the partner, but still valuable enough for his suffering to destroy the higher value?

This is why I am trying to make all those highly related remarks in the second part (just jump right into that A, B, C part) of the following post:

What can be said about that?

Can giving up a higher value be moral if a lesser value suffering cannot be stopped without evasion and unjust treatment of the lesser value?

 

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't see how "empathic pain all the time as an expression of personal concern for the victim" is anything but an example of someone with poor emotional control, or a person with PTSD. That is, you don't need to feel such pain -all- the time, if you did, you wouldn't be able to function well or at all. It isn't evasion to acknowledge an emotion when it appears, grasp the source, and move on.

I don't see how this is a real dilemma of empathy, it's more a dilemma of what it means when a value is harmed or diminished, but your 3 distinctions look fine to me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
46 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

I don't see how "empathic pain all the time as an expression of personal concern for the victim" is anything but an example of someone with poor emotional control, or a person with PTSD. That is, you don't need to feel such pain -all- the time, if you did, you wouldn't be able to function well or at all. It isn't evasion to acknowledge an emotion when it appears, grasp the source, and move on.

I don't see how this is a real dilemma of empathy, it's more a dilemma of what it means when a value is harmed or diminished, but your 3 distinctions look fine to me.

Let's go deeper: What about having the urge to seek the empathy in the first place, in order to stay in touch with reality, with what's going on? If that's at the root of the problem, would that itself already be poor emotional control? Or just a natural consequence of one's chosen principles, proper under normal circumstances? That's why I call it "the dilemma of choosing empathy".

If you agree with my 3 distinctions, would acting based on the knowledge of one's "poor emotional control" still leave the metaphysical value hierarchy unaffected? "It's actually a higher value, but unfortunately the circumstances are such that I can no longer keep it"?

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've read he posts here but I still can't figure out the exact question, or the exact problem/dilemma  being suggested.

Empathy is a very natural and useful mechanism in learning. It's closely related to copying/mimicry of all kinds whereby humans (and perhaps other animals ) learn. Yawning is contagious, and so is laughter.

Of course, almost anything that can be done right can also be done wrong. Some types of hypochondria arise from a pathological form of empathy: I hear about a new disease, and imagine I might be suffering from it. 

Not sure what the issue is, in this particular thread, though.

Edited by softwareNerd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
22 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

I've read he posts here but I still can't figure out the exact question, or the exact problem/dilemma  being suggested.

The question is - put in a nutshell - which is worse:

Loosing a higher value (being with a partner) for good, or a lesser value (e.g. a close family member) suffering permanently under extreme pain?

A scenario was constructed in which a mutually exclusive choice has to be made among these two.

Since witnessing a value suffering involves empathy, there is a perceived dilemma: Engaging in empathy at the price of seemingly loosing a clear focus on one's own values, versus cutting down on empathy at the price of seemingly loosing contact with the reality of the suffering.

While discussing this, there have been attempts at getting into how empathy works, what actually constitutes real empathy, how much of it should be employed, and to what extend that is even a choice etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/3/2016 at 2:40 AM, Eiuol said:

You can also think about emotions later without feeling them now, that's how memory is helpful. This is similar to seeing a bird. You don't need to literally see birds to think about birds. Conceptual thought is your answer. To say recreating an emotional space is required to judge emotions is like saying concrete-bound thinking is superior to conceptual thought.

It's okay to empathize, but it doesn't need to be constant.

I don't have a problem with not literally seeing birds, I'm confident of grasping their reality when thinking about them. The reason is that I have experienced birds in reality.

Just have a hard time comparing such emotionless object-grasping like birds to the grasping of pain on the highest level. It is my understanding that according to http://www.healthcentral.com/chronic-pain/coping-403768-5_2.html  there are up to ten levels of pain. How is it possible to claim to be able to conceive of levels 9 and 10, if experiencing such levels would actually require causing serious damage to yourself? How would there even be a perceptual basis on which to conceptualize?

On 3/3/2016 at 9:28 PM, Eiuol said:

I don't see how "empathic pain all the time as an expression of personal concern for the victim" is anything but an example of someone with poor emotional control, or a person with PTSD. That is, you don't need to feel such pain -all- the time, if you did, you wouldn't be able to function well or at all. It isn't evasion to acknowledge an emotion when it appears, grasp the source, and move on.

I'm a bit confused here. What are you implying about how the proper moral thinking should go? How would you form a positive-minus-negative "calculus" for decision making? Is it:

"All I need to care about is whether I need to feel the empathic pain. If at best I could just swallow some magic pill every time the pain occurs, it would actually all be fine. So I actually only need to include my own empathic pain in my calculus, which is quite marginal in the long run, so it doesn't destroy the higher value kept. This calculus doesn't include the real extend to which the lesser value actually suffers, but that's not important to me."

or is it:

"What I should actually care about is the pain that all the time actually exists out there in the other person as such. Not just how occasionally I will have to empathize with it. I actually need to extrapolate the empathy over time to fill in the gaps. So there's a lot more to include in my calculus, which keeps it terrible in the long run, so it actually destroys the higher value kept. But I'm fairly including the extend to which the lesser value actually suffers in my calculus."

??

Would the latter case already be an example of altruism, of talking above one's own head, and of being concerned with things completely outside of one's own responsibility?

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, DiscoveryJoy said:

I don't have a problem with not literally seeing birds, I'm confident of grasping their reality when thinking about them. The reason is that I have experienced birds in reality.

Just have a hard time comparing such emotionless object-grasping like birds to the grasping of pain on the highest level. It is my understanding that according to http://www.healthcentral.com/chronic-pain/coping-403768-5_2.html  there are up to ten levels of pain. How is it possible to claim to be able to conceive of levels 9 and 10, if experiencing such levels would actually require causing serious damage to yourself? How would there even be a perceptual basis on which to conceptualize?

By reasoning. By conceptual thought. The point is you don't need to feel emotions of the kind you want to think about at the moment. You can extrapolate and reason about people's emotions based on related emotions. I mean, basically, you seem to be making a false dilemma, that somehow thinking about emotions accurately means you are feeling the emotions -now-. Affective empathy matters, but cognitive empathy is how you think about it. Similarly, it matters to see birds in reality, but the concept 'bird' is how you think about them. It then becomes a matter of evaluating values like anything else, with a lot of thinking how values change over time, if your value is healthy enough to be a value, etc. If an important person to you is in jail in Siberia for insulting Stalin and tortured there, then that affects your life a lot in concrete ways. If an even higher value is in jail, your life is affected even more.
 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/8/2016 at 2:33 AM, Eiuol said:

The point is you don't need to feel emotions of the kind you want to think about at the moment.

I mean, basically, you seem to be making a false dilemma, that somehow thinking about emotions accurately means you are feeling the emotions -now-.

Just "not at the moment"? Or possibly "not even at all"?

Assuming that it is true that you don't need to feel them now, is it then even necessary to feel them ever?

On 3/8/2016 at 2:33 AM, Eiuol said:

By reasoning. By conceptual thought.

You can extrapolate and reason about people's emotions based on related emotions.

As your answer is that you can create a perceptual basis by reasoning and conceptual thought, it seems like you want to construct a perceptual concrete in the mind from some memorized concretes, so that the result resembles the would-be real experience? Some "ultra-light" dose of that same intensity that somehow lets you stay in touch with how it would feel like, but not so strong as to overwhelm your ability to loose sight of your other values?

What if you did that and then later accidentally experienced it in reality, totally taken by surprise that a particular physical pain is actually much much worse in practice than you had imagined in theory? Would this demonstrate an inability of reason to extrapolate an emotion from the related emotions? Or what else would or could that demonstrate?

On 3/8/2016 at 2:33 AM, Eiuol said:

Affective empathy matters, but cognitive empathy is how you think about it.

Affective empathy matters, but only to a certain extend then? All levels on the pain scale can be extrapolated from experiences of level 1 pain alone, so we need to experience no more pain than that? Notions of "unimaginable pain" are all bogus?

 

Assuming that cognitive empathy is sufficient, it still leaves the following unanswered. I'm still wondering what you think about the following, if I replace all occurances of "empathy" with "cognitive empathy":

On 3/7/2016 at 0:41 AM, DiscoveryJoy said:

I'm a bit confused here. What are you implying about how the proper moral thinking should go? How would you form a positive-minus-negative "calculus" for decision making? Is it:

"All I need to care about is whether I need to feel the cognitive empathic pain. If at best I could just swallow some magic pill every time the pain occurs, it would actually all be fine. So I actually only need to include my own cognitive empathic pain in my calculus, which is quite marginal in the long run, so it doesn't destroy the higher value kept. This calculus doesn't include the real extend to which the lesser value actually suffers, but that's not important to me."

or is it:

"What I should actually care about is the pain that all the time actually exists out there in the other person as such. Not just how occasionally I will have to empathize with it cognitively. I actually need to extrapolate the cognitive empathy over time to fill in the gaps. So there's a lot more to include in my calculus, which keeps it terrible in the long run, so it actually destroys the higher value kept. But I'm fairly including the extend to which the lesser value actually suffers in my calculus."

??

Would the latter case already be an example of altruism, of talking above one's own head, and of being concerned with things completely outside of one's own responsibility?

 

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not sure about what your thoughts are on my recent replies, since many of my questions remained unanswered.

But I am meanwhile reflecting about the following proposal:

The fact that a lower values suffers by itself does not make it right to give up a higher value for it. The degree of the suffering is irrelevant. It is therefore wrong to engage in empathy on the sensual level by inflicting slight doses of physical pain to yourself only in order to be in touch with the degree of the suffering, in order to be able to include it in a calculus of the kind: "How much value for me minus how much pain for him?". It is even wrong to engage in empathy on the cognitive level with that goal. Because the whole calculus is wrong. It is wrong because it places someone else's suffering on the same level as if it were your own. It is wrong because it says that "Your suffering is my suffering, so I have to consider it equally alongside with my higher values, in order to make a decision". It is wrong because that kind of calculus must always lead to giving up the higher value, since it is always overridden by the pain grasped: If you pretend like the one whose feed are burning all the time is you, then you cannot allow yourself to enjoy any value at the same time, ever.

A value-based approach only asks the question: "Which of the two values is actually higher, independent of whether it is suffering or not?" The higher value must be given precedence in any case. If necessary, one just needs to be brave enough to ignore someone else's pain now in order to implement the proper decision, and learn how to deal with the pain later. Deal with it later, not in the sense of constantly seeking empathic experiences, but only in the sense of learning how to move on and not wanting any more when and if the topic comes up.

You can let me know what you think about that if you like.

 

The only question remaining to me is what to say if someone considers a certain "regular awareness of certain people's emotional wellbeing", such an awareness by itself, kind of a value. Not necessary because one values those people more than or as much as one's higher values, but because of some idea that one generally needs to be "conscious of what's going on out there in close people" on principle, perhaps as an expression of one's own character etc., and the idea that one needs to bear that awareness on the back of one's mind all the time as permanently as mentally possible. As a psychological precondition to allowing yourself to enjoy your higher values. So if the situation is so bad that sticking to this principle makes the enjoyment of your higher values impossible, but you still stick to that principle "for the sake of the principle", having to forgo your higher values, what would that mean?

Would that be a valid principle to have in the first place? Or would such a principle invalidate the idea that what you call "your higher values" really are your higher values, because you are placing that principle above those "alleged higher values"? Or would you say "No, the principle is just a principle, it can backfire in certain highly improbable cases, but the value is still a value and sticking to the principle does not invalidate what you think is your value hierarchy, even if it might seem so. You cannot compare principles against values!"?

Edited by DiscoveryJoy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.