The Social Psychology of Good and Evil

By Arthur G. Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
BENEFITS AND LIABILITIES
OF EMPATHY-INDUCED ALTRUISM

C. DANIEL BATSON

NADIA AHMAD

E. L. STOCKS

One of life's lessons is that nothing is all good. Even chocolate cake has calories and cholesterol. This lesson makes us leery of terms such as good and evil, value assessments that present pure opposites. Has anyone ever seriously and sanely admitted to being evil? People admit to misbehavior, to moral shortcomings, even to crimes, but not to evil. Yet with increasing frequency political leaders and pundits are ready to apply this label to others with phrases such as “the Evil Empire,” “the Great Satan,” “a war between the forces of good and the forces of evil.” These labels are applied not simply to point out the others' shortcomings but to justify totally dismissing the others' point of view and agenda. Talk of good and evil is used to imply the speaker's own innocence, virtue, and license to punish, even to kill. Not surprisingly, those who bandy charges of evil are often seen as the very incarnation of evil by the targets of their epithets. To avoid fanning these flames of moral one-upsmanship that blind more than illumine, we shall speak not of good and evil, but of benefits and liabilities.

Most people, if asked, would probably say that altruism is all good. But having learned life's lesson that nothing is all good, they might also quickly add that altruism does not really exist; it is too good to be true. We believe that there is now rather clear evidence that each of these an-

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