How Our Evolving Understanding of Individual Autonomy Led to Human Rights for All

A Cultural Historian Traces Empathy From Epistolary Novels to Abolition to Act Up

In Inventing Human Rights: A History, UCLA historian Lynn Hunt traces the modern concept of Human Rights to a series of mid-18th century epistolary novels with a strong first person perspective, including Julie by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Samuel Richardson’s Pamela and Clarissa. Male and female readers got passionately engrossed in the experience of being “in” the body and position of the heroines of these novels. Empathizing with people outside their class and experience, Hunt argues, was part of a transformation of the idea of a “self” that occurred in Europe …

More In: Is Empathy the 20th Century’s Most Powerful Invention?

No, Empathy Isn’t a Universal Value

From Saudi Arabia to Peru, There’s No Clear Pattern to How Compassion Works

Empathy varies a lot among people, psychological research has found. But it also varies widely among countries and cultures. When my colleagues and I set out to analyze the largest …

Is Our Culture of Empathy Perpetuating Inequality?

Feeling Others’ Pain Lets Us Ignore the Power Structures That Really Divide Us

We desperately need more empathy. At least, that’s what we are told—in political rhetoric, in bestselling popular science books, in international development discourse, in feminist and anti-racist activism. Among current …

Why We Should Fear Emotionally Manipulative Robots

Artificial Intelligence Is Learning How to Exploit Human Psychology for Profit

“Keep going straight here!”

“Err, that’s not what the app is telling me to do.”

“Yes, but it’s faster this way. The app is taking you to the beltway. Traffic is terrible …

The Weaponization of Empathy in a Hyper-Connected World

How to Live Through the Weird Next Chapter of This Ambiguous Virtue

Every time I go on Facebook I end up staring into the eyes of a puppy. Sometimes it has been mistreated, has a bad case of mange, or worse. Sometimes …

Empathy’s Evolution in the Human Imagination

What Began as an Aesthetic Response to Art Is Now a Highly Complex Neurochemical Reaction

Empathy seems to be one of the most “natural” emotions, but before 1908, no one in the English-speaking world had heard of it.

And when it did appear, “empathy” was …