Books

Against Empathy

Paul Bloom

In a divided world, empathy is not the solution, it is the problem; a source of prejudice, not kindness.

We think of empathy – the ability to feel the suffering of others for ourselves – as the ultimate source of all good behaviour. But while it inspires care and protection in personal relationships, it has the opposite effect in the wider world. As the latest research in psychology and neuroscience shows, we feel empathy most for those we find attractive and who seem similar to us and not at all for those who are different, distant or anonymous. Empathy therefore biases us in favour of individuals we know while numbing us to the plight of thousands. Guiding us expertly through the experiments, case studies and arguments on all sides, Paul Bloom ultimately shows that some of our worst decisions – in charity, child-raising, criminal justice, climate change and war – are motivated by this wolf in sheep's clothing.

Brilliantly argued, urgent and humane, Against Empathy overturns widely held assumptions to reveal one of the most profound yet overlooked sources of human conflict. It demonstrates with absolute clarity that, when faced with moral decisions, we must choose reason and compassion, not empathy, as our guides.

Just Babies

Paul Bloom

Psychologists have long believed that we begin life as moral blank slates. Most of us take it for granted that babies are born selfish and that it is the role of society - and especially parents - to transform them from little sociopaths into civilised beings. Now, in Just Babies, Paul Bloom argue that humans are in fact hardwired with a sense of morality. Drawing on groundbreaking research, Bloom demonstrates that even before they can speak or walk, babies judge the goodness and badness of others' actions; act to soothe those in distress; and feel empathy, guilt, pride and righteous anger.

Still, this innate morality is limited. We are naturally hostile to strangers, prone to parochialism and bigotry. Drawing on insights from psychology, behavioural economics, evolutionary biology and philosophy, Bloom explores how we have come to surpass these limitations. Along the way, he examines the morality of chimpanzees, criminals, religious extremists and Ivy League professors, and explores out often puzzling moral feelings about sex, politics, religion and race.

Bloom rejects the fashionable view that adult morality is driven mainly by gut feelings and unconscious biases. Just as reason has driven our great scientific discoveries, it is reason and deliberation that makes possible our moral discoveries. Ultimately, it is through our imagination, our compassion and our uniquely human capacity for rational thought that we can transcend the primitive sense of morality we were born with, becoming more than just babies.

Vivid, witty, and intellectually probing, Just Babies offers a radical new perspective on our moral lives.

How Pleasure Works

Paul Bloom

We are attracted, whether we know it or not, to the hidden aspects of things and people.

Some teenagers enjoy cutting themselves with razors. Some men pay good money to be spanked by prostitutes. The average Briton spends over a day a week watching television. People slow their cars to look at gory accidents and go to sentimental movies that make them cry.

In this revealing and witty account, Paul Bloom examines the science behind these curious desires, attractions and tastes, exploring one of the most fascinating and fundamental engines of human behaviour. Drawing on insights from child development, philosophy, neuroscience and behavioural economics, How Pleasure Works shows how certain universal habits of the human mind explain what we like and why we like it.

Descartes' Baby

Paul Bloom

Why is a forgery worth so much less than an original work of art?What's so funny about someone slipping on a banana peel? Why, as Freud once asked, is a man willing to kiss a woman passionately, but not use her toothbrush? And how many times should you baptize a two-headed twin? Descartes' Baby answers such questions, questions we may have never thought to ask about such uniquely human traits as art, humour, faith, disgust, and morality.

In this thought-provoking and fascinating account of human nature, psychologist Paul Bloom contends that we all see the world in terms of bodies and souls. Even babies have a rich understanding of both the physical and social worlds. They expect objects to obey principles of physics, and they're startled when things disappear or defy gravity. They can read the emotions of adults and respond with their own feelings of anger, sympathy and joy.

This perspective remains with us throughout our lives. Using his own researches and new ideas from philosophy, evolutionary biology, aesthetics, theology, and neuroscience, Bloom shows how this way to making sense of reality can explain what makes us human. The myriad ways that our childhood views of the world undergo development throughout our lives and profoundly influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions is the subject of this richly rewarding book.

Biography

Paul Bloom is Professor of Psychology at Yale University. He is an internationally recognised expert on the psychology of language, social reasoning, morality and art. His previous books include Just Babies and How Pleasure Works, and he has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times, New Yorker and the Guardian. Bloom has won several awards for his research, articles and teaching, and his ‘Introduction to Psychology’ class was one of seven selected by Yale to be made available worldwide. His TED talks have been viewed 2.8 million times.