Department of Philosophy



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The Department of Philosophy Colloquium Series is pleased to present

Olivia Bailey, Harvard University

In Defense of Empathy: The Value of Humane Understanding

Critics of empathy argue that we must reject the commonsense conception of empathy as essential to virtuous social life. They contend that empathy runs the risk of enhancing dangerous moral myopia and provincialism, and they suggest that the goods empathy seemed fit to secure for us– knowledge of others' inner lives, judgment of others' emotions, altruistic motivation– are all available through less risky means. In response, I argue that this criticism overlooks empathy's most significant and interesting feature: it is the unique source of a particular form of understanding, which I will call humane understanding. Humane understanding of others is an epistemic good that is non-instrumentally morally valuable. Achieving this form of understanding is itself a way of caring, rather than just a means to promote other caring behavior.

Thursday, January 25, 4:00 pm, Watson Hall 517


If you have accessibility requirements, please contact Susanne Cliff-Jüngling (


Winter Schedule

January 11     Elliot Paul (Barnard/Columbia

Reasoning Through Time: Cartesian Insights

January 18     Juan Piñeros Glassrock (Yale)

Authoritative Knowledge

January 25     Olivia Bailey (Harvard)

In Defense of Empathy: The Value of Humane Understanding

February 1     Rima Basu (University of Southern California)

The Moral Stakes of Our Beliefs

February 6 (Tuesday, 4:30 pm)   Antonia Peacocke (Berkeley)

Constancy of Belief and the Value of Self-Knowledge

February 8     Patti Lenard (Ottawa, jointly sponsored by Political Studies) 

February 15   No colloquium

March 1         Michael Tomasello (Duke University, Dunning Trust Lecture)

March 8         Agnes Tam (Queen’s)

March 15       Charlotte Blattner (Queen’s)

March 22       Pablo Gilabert (Concordia)

March 29       Udo Schüklenk (Queen's)

April 5           Brad Inwood (Yale, Vlastos Lecture)