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Empathy and Morality$
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Heidi L. Maibom

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199969470

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199969470.001.0001

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Empathy and Morality in Ethnographic Perspective

Empathy and Morality in Ethnographic Perspective

(p.230) 12 Empathy and Morality in Ethnographic Perspective
Empathy and Morality

Douglas Hollan

Oxford University Press

Is empathy inherently prosocial, leading to altruistic behaviors as some psychologists, neurobiologists, ethnologists, and care ethicists have suggested? Or is it instead certain moral climates that encourage empathy and that use it to promote people’s care and well-being? This chapter addresses such questions by reviewing some of the recent ethnographic work on empathy and morality. It begins by discussing recent anthropological definitions and conceptions of “empathy” and “morality” before turning to the ethnographic evidence as to how these two phenomena are related to one another. It argues that while there is ample evidence to suggest that “basic” forms of empathy—rooted in automatic, biologically based, embodied forms of imitation and attunement—are critical to human sociality and communication, the ways in which these basic forms become elaborated into more complex, “marked” forms of empathy that can be mobilized to help or to harm others may vary considerably across communities.

Keywords:   empathy, morality, ethnography, altruism, attunement, embodiment

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