Empathy and Demonization
Samuel Fleischacker (University of Illinois, Chicago)

August 13, 2015, 4:15pm - 6:15pm
Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne

G16 (Jim Potter Room)
Old Physics Building
Melbourne
Australia

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Abstract: It is of course hardly news that there’s something wrong with demonizing people.  What exactly is wrong with that, and what exactly demonization amounts to, is not so clear, however.   I take the “demon” in demonization, here, quite seriously. Drawing on themes in Kant's Religion Within the Bounds of Mere Reason, I argue that demonization, in its literal sense, is an ever-present temptation in our understanding of other human beings, but one that should be resisted.  I then turn to an Adam-Smithian rather than a Kantian understanding of “humanity”— as the result of an empathetic understanding of others— and argue that we demonize people precisely when we give up on the effort to empathize with them.  Both what demonization is, and what is wrong with it, should become clearer when we draw out these links with empathy.  Clarifying demonization should also help us better understand empathy, and its value.

This event is supported by the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

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