The great modern humanitarian project of expanding the scope of our empathy to include the entire human race seems to be working.

But theres a wrinkle in this perfect picture: Our instinctive tendency to categorize the world into us and them is difficult to overcome.

The endpoint of the liberal humanitarian project, which is universal empathy, would mean no boundary between in-group and out-group.

In fact, there is a terrible irony in the assumption that we can ever transcend our parochial tendencies entirely. Social scientists have found that in-group love and out-group hate originate from the same neurobiological basis, are mutually reinforcing, and co-evolvedbecause loyalty to the in-group provided a survival advantage by helping our ancestors to combat a threatening out-group.

That means that, in principle, if we eliminate out-group hate completely, we may also undermine in-group love. Empathy is a zero-sum game.

Ignoring this fact carries a heavy cost: We become paralyzed by the unachievable demands we place on ourselves.

People do care, newspaper editorialists and social-media commenters granted. But they care inconsistently: grieving for victims of Brussels recent attacks and ignoring Yemens recent bombing victims; expressing outrage over ISIS rather than the much deadlier Boko Haram; mourning the death of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe while overlooking countless human murder victims.

The truth is that, just as even the most determined athlete cannot overcome the limits of the human body, so too we cannot escape the limits of our moral capabilities.

We can and do override our moral instincts using our more logical and deliberative mode of thinking, so the in-group vs. out-group opposition is not absolute. But we have limited cognitive resources, which rapidly become depleted.

Similar constraints cause what is known as decision fatigue: Deliberating over an initial series of decisions can inhibit thoughtfulness in later decisions, as observed in judges deciding whether to grant prisoners parole earlier and later in the day.

Even political liberals who prize universalism recoil when it distracts from a targeted focus on socially disadvantaged groups.

That means we need to abandon an idealized cultural sensitivity that gives all moral values equal importance. We must instead focus our limited moral resources on a few values, and make tough choices about which ones are more important than others.

Basing our moral criteria on maximizing happiness is not simply a philosophical choice, but rather a scientifically motivated one: Empirical data confirm that happiness improves physical health, enhancing immune function and reducing stress, both of which contribute to longevity.

Think of the great progress physicists made when they acknowledged the limitations of the physical worldnothing can move faster than light, or be perfectly localized in the subatomic realm. Similarly, we will make our greatest moral progress when we accept and work within the limitations of human moral cognition, and forego an unrealistic concern for respecting difference and moral diversity at any cost.

讀完:August 23, 2017 at 03:26PM|來源: