Cultivating Empathic Concern and Altruistic Motivation
Contemporary psychologist C. Daniel Batson argues that there is now a remarkable amount of evidence supporting the claim that empathic concern produces altruistic motivation. Batson also contends that on balance such motivation benefits society-it is something worth cultivating. In this chapter I focus on the practical question of how to cultivate increased empathy-induced altruism. I argue that Hume points the way to an empirical, pragmatic and indirect approach to this task of cultivation. In the first section, I outline some of the ambiguities surrounding the question of cultivation and contrast these with Batson’s empirical findings. I then establish the link between Batson and Hume by showing that both provide an account of what leads us to feel empathic concern and altruistic motivation to help those in need-or, in Hume’s terminology, pity and benevolence. Explicating Hume’s account in the context of his treatment of sympathy and extensive sympathy in the Treatise, I extrapolate several ‘Humean’ avenues for cultivating this trajectory of emotional and motivational response to those in need. I focus in particular on the phenomenon Hume terms ‘acquaintance’ and highlight contemporary psychological evidence from Batson and others on this front. Thus, I suggest those sympathetic to Batson’s project will find a friend in Hume.