Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Rivka Weinberg

Reader 2

Yuval Avnur

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© 2019 Emma G. Loftus


Although empathy has been implicated in both academia and pop culture as nearly analogous to morality, some philosophers and psychologists have taken issue with this assessment. It has been argued that from an ethical perspective, empathy is biasing, myopic, and perhaps more trouble than it is worth. In this paper, I first address whether empathy is a necessary baseline trait for having some degree of ethical motivation. Based on the differing moral experiences of sociopaths and autistic individuals, as well as empathy’s unique ability to motivationally bridge the gap between self and other, I conclude that empathy is a required trait for the moral agent. Assuming empathy is present in the moral experience, I then delineate the negative and positive effects empathy has on the ethical outcome of actions. Empathy does appear to cause prejudiced biasing and derogation of self-respect, but it also acts as a powerful motivator for other-oriented action and provides ethically valuable information about mind-states. Ultimately, I conclude that empathy cannot be a standalone ethical trait, but when filtered through reason, it can be invaluably useful.