Samuel Fleischacker, Being Me Being You: Adam Smith and Empathy [Book Review]

Society 59 (2):213-215 (2022)
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With Being Me Being You, Samuel Fleischacker provides a reconstruction and defense of Adam Smith’s account of empathy, and the role it plays in building moral consensus, motivating moral behavior, and correcting our biases, prejudices, and tendency to demonize one another. He sees this book as an intervention in recent debates about the role that empathy plays in our morality. For some, such as Paul Bloom, Joshua Greene, Jesse Prinz, and others, empathy, or our capacity for fellow-feeling, tends to misguide us in the best of cases, and more often reinforces faction and tribalism in morals and politics. These utilitarians, as Fleischacker refers to them, propose that empathy take a back seat to cost-benefit analysis in moral decision-making. As an intervention, the book is largely successful. Fleischacker’s defense of empathy is nuanced and escapes the myopic enthusiasm to which many partisans of empathy are prone. Anyone looking to understand the relationship between empathy and morality would do well to grapple with Being Me Being You. Still, Fleischacker overlooks that Smith would most likely be less convinced of the idea that greater empathy can help us overcome the great challenges of our time.

Author's Profile

Getty Lustila
Northeastern University


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