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An ongoing debate in political and moral philosophy concerns the nature of international obligations. While cosmopolitans argue that duties of justice are independent of national borders, statists argue otherwise, sometimes basing their account on the limitations of our empathic concern, a line of argument found much earlier in Adam Smith. Although critics argue that empathy is neither necessary nor sufficient for morality, and although statists imply that psychological limitations of the kind that would be based in empathy prevent the realization of commitments to distant others beyond humanitarian aid, I argue that both these views are incorrect. While the possession of cognitive and emotional empathy is clearly not sufficient for being moral, the requirement for cognitive empathy arises out of a proper understanding of moral functioning, and the need for emotional empathy arises out of a natural necessity due to the kind of affiliative, biological creatures that we are. Since our capacities for cognitive and emotional empathy are not simply innately given but capable of being shaped by processes of learning and culture, statist arguments against stronger moral obligations across nations are poorly founded.
Philosophy, Theology and the Sciences
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Peterson, Gregory R., "Can One Love the Distant Other? Empathy, Affiliation, and Cosmopolitanism" (2015). History, Political Science, Philosophy, and Religion Faculty Publications. 9.