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Betzler, Monika (2019): The Relational Value of Empathy. In: International Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 27, No. 2: pp. 136-161
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Philosophers and scholars from other disciplines have long discussed the role of empathy in our moral lives. The distinct relational value of empathy, however, has been largely overlooked. This article aims to specify empathy's distinct relational value: Empathy is both intrinsically and extrinsically valuable in virtue of the pleasant experiences we share with others, the harmony and meaning that empathy provides, the recognition, self-esteem, and self-trust it enhances, as well as trust in others, attachment, and affection it fosters. Once we better understand in what ways empathy is a uniquely relational phenomenon, we can unveil its relevance to morality, which avoids the strictures of both partiality and impartiality. On the one hand, it is the relational value of empathy that grounds defeasible reasons to empathize insofar as empathy is morally called for by a particular relationship (or if we have defeasible reasons to establish a relationship by empathy). On the other hand, it is precisely empathy's relational value that allows us to show that it can be kept within bounds. To realize empathy's relational value, we are not constantly required to empathize. Instead, once we properly appreciate empathy's distinct relational value, we can show that this leaves us room to respond to impartialist concerns.