This dissertation engages with the philosophical, psychological, and scientific literature on two important topics: empathy and human enhancement. My two broad goals are to clarify the role of empathy in ascriptions of responsibility and to consider how enhanced empathy might alter those ascriptions.
First, I argue that empathy is best thought of as a two-component process. The first component is what I call the rational component of empathy (RCE). RCE is necessary for moral responsibility as it allows us to put ourselves in another's shoes and to realize that we would want help (or not to be harmed) if we were in the other's place. The second component is what I call the emotive component of empathy (ECE). ECE is usually an automatic response to witnessing others in distress. Expanding on Michael Slote's view that moral distinctions track degrees of empathy, I argue that it is ECE that varies in strength depending on our relationship to specific people.
Second, I argue that in order to achieve Peter Singer's goal an "expanding circle" of care for all human beings, it will be necessary to use some form of artificial empathy enhancement. Within this context, I try to show that empathy enhancement is 1) a reasonably foreseeable possibility within the next decade or so, and 2) morally defensible.
Third, I argue that philosophers who argue that psychopaths are not morally responsible for their actions are mistaken. As I see it, these philosophers have erred in treating empathy as a singular concept and concluding that because psychopaths lack empathy they cannot be held morally responsible for their actions. The distinction between RCE and ECE allows us to say that psychopaths lack one component of empathy, ECE, but are still responsible for their actions because they clearly have a functional RCE.
Fourth, I paint a portrait of the landscape of responsibility with respect to the enhanced empath. I argue that the enhanced empath would be subject to an expanded sphere of special obligations such that acts that were previously supererogatory become, prima facie, morally obligatory.
- Empathy, enhancement, and responsibility