Modern notions of empathy often celebrate its ability to bridge divides, to unite humankind. But how do we square this with the popular view that we can never truly comprehend the experience of being someone else? In this book, Samuel Fleischacker delves into the work of Adam Smith to draw out an understanding of empathy that respects both personal difference and shared humanity.
After laying out a range of meanings for the concept of empathy, Fleischacker proposes that what Smith called “sympathy” is very much what we today consider empathy. Smith’s version has remarkable value, as his empathy calls for entering into the perspective of another—a uniquely human feat that connects people while still allowing them to define their own distinctive standpoints. After discussing Smith’s views in relation to more recent empirical and philosophical studies, Fleischacker shows how turning back to Smith promises to enrich, clarify, and advance our current debates about the meaning and uses of empathy.
Samuel Fleischacker is LAS Distinguished Professor of Philosophyat the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of many books, including
On Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”: A Philosophical Companion and, most recently,
The Good and the Good Book: Revelation as a Guide to Life.
“In this impressive book, Fleischacker conducts an inquiry into the intersection of two currently much discussed topics: the ethical import of empathy and the philosophy of Adam Smith. Writing with elegance, insight, and an admirable degree of intellectual breadth, Fleischacker adjudicates the multiple uses and misuses of the term empathy in the literature, criticizes currently fashionable rejections of empathy’s moral value, and defends his own account in harmony with his interpretation of Smith’s outlook. This is a major contribution.”
— C. A. J. (Tony) Coady, University of Melbourne
Being Me Being Youoffers a novel interpretation of Adam Smith’s conception of empathy—or ‘sympathy,’ as Smith referred to the phenomenon—and defends its importance for ethical theory.Ethicists,especially those with interests in moral psychology,will find Fleischacker’s nuanced discussion of empathy to be of greatinterest, and the book is written in such an accessible andinvitingmanner that it will no doubt serve students of all levels.Moreover,Fleischacker develops an innovative Smithian account of humanity. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that his discussion of Smithian humanity is one of the most sophisticated and impressive philosophicalcommentaries on Smith’s thought that I have encountered. Accordingly, this book is an important addition both to the secondary literature on Adam Smith and to ethical theory more generally.”
— Nir Ben-Moshe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign