How far does compassion go?

The following video asks whether liberals or conservative are more compassionate.

I’m neither. But the video raises a general problem with the use of the word “compassion.”

The term refers to an empathy with the suffering of others, which is a good thing, but isn’t oriented towards any action to remedy that suffering.

The Oxford English Living Dictionary says compassion is:

Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

In relation to other animals, Gary Francione has for years said that compassion without justice is sterile, since compassion doesn’t require any action to address the problem, while justice does.

This is something Peter Kropotkin affirmed at the beginning of the 20th century in the Introduction to his book Mutual Aid:

human ethics based upon love and personal sympathy only have contributed to narrow the comprehension of the moral feeling as a whole. It is not love to my neighbour—whom often do not know at all—which induces me to seize a pail of water and to rush towards his house when I see it on fire; it is a far wider, even though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and sociability which moves me. So it is also with animals. It is not love, and not even sympathy (understood in its proper sense) which induces a herd of ruminants or of horses to form a ring in order to resist an attack of wolves; not love which induces wolves to form pack for hunting; not love which induces kittens or lambs to play, or a dozen of species of young birds to spend their days together in the autumn; and it is neither love nor personal sympathy which induces many thousand fallow-deer scattered over a territory as large as France to form into a score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in order to cross there river.

…it is not love and not even sympathy upon which Society is based in mankind. It is the conscience—be it only at the stage of an instinct—of human solidarity. It is the unconscious recognition of the force that is borrowed by each man from the practice of mutual aid; of the close dependency of every one’s happiness upon the happiness of all; and of the sense of justice, or equity, which brings the individual to consider the rights of every other individual as equal to his own.

 

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