Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Philosophy

Content Description

1 online resource (iv, 274 pages)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Jason D'Cruz

Committee Members

Bradley Armour-Garb, Brendan Gaesser, Ariel Zylberman


Adam Smith, emotion, empathy, impartiality, moral inquiry, pragmatism, Empathy, Fairness, Pragmatism, Ethics, Emotions

Subject Categories

Ethics and Political Philosophy


In this dissertation, I defend the view that, despite empathy’s susceptibility to problematic biases, we can and should cultivate empathy to aid our understanding of our own values and the values of others. I argue that empathy allows us to critically examine and potentially revise our values by considering concrete moral problems and our own moral views from the perspective of another person. Appropriately calibrated empathy helps us achieve a critical distance from our own moral perspective and is thus tied to impartiality in moral inquiry. In defending this role for empathy in moral inquiry, I draw on empirical work from psychology and neuroscience to support a constructionist account of emotion, according to which we can develop more wide-ranging, fine-grained emotion concepts and empathetic capacities by seeking diverse experiences, communication, and engagement with art. I then defend the value of this effortful correction of empathy bias, arguing (1) that impartial moral inquiry ought to utilize empathy as a check on motivated reasoning and presumptions regarding what count as appropriate solutions to moral problems, and (2) that compassionate moral inquiry ought to involve empathy as a means of recognizing others as authentic moral agents that can make valuable contributions to moral debate. Lastly, I draw on insights from pragmatist philosophy to critique Adam Smith’s empathy-based account of the “impartial spectator” and defend a conception of impartiality grounded in fallibilistic, empathetic method.