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The Logical Fallacy of True Empathy

Even if they don’t actually think about it in this way, many people truly believe that they are empathic. This is a logical fallacy. Truth is that being empathic is a lofty goal, though it is nearly impossible to achieve. Let me explain.

Putting it in layman’s terms, being empathic means being able to experience the feelings, thoughts, and experiences of another person, even though you may not have the same feelings, thoughts, and experiences. You might think that you don’t know of anyone who thinks that they are empathic, but is that true?

A person who thinks they are empathic will often make statements that start with, “Everyone knows that…”, or they will generalize a group of people with statements like, “Christians believe that…” or Conservatives think that…”, or “College professors try to…”. 

It should be immediately obvious that such statements amount to the transference of one’s own beliefs on another person or group without being truly knowledgable or empathic at all. Nearly all of us have probably been guilty of this at one time or another and I certainly have been. There is an implication that makes statements that begin in that way logical fallacies. It is also a danger of trying to affix a label to a person or group or thinking that everyone in that group is the same.

As an example, and this is one I’ve actually read, “Democrats don’t own guns and are in favor of strong gun control laws.” The implication is the word “all”, though the statement doesn’t actually include that word, meaning that the statement implies that this would be true of all Democrats. 

This would be obviously false. Some Democrats do own guns, hunt, and target practice. Quite a few also realize that laws that are designed to limit the freedoms of people who don’t break the law have no effect at all on people who do and will break the law, so they may be totally against strong gun control laws.

Empathy doesn’t exist when an implied absolute statement is used. Not everyone is alike. In fact, no two people are. Everything we think and feel is based on our own experiences. If the experience of someone else is totally different than our own, it becomes either exceedingly difficult or impossible to truly empathize. 

The danger comes when we start believing the logical fallacy of true empathy. Trying diligently to understand the feelings and experiences of other people is a good thing. However, honestly believing that we do understand the feelings and experiences of another person amounts to self-delusion.

  • Do you ever use statements that imply empathy about other people who have totally different beliefs and feelings than your own?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I’ve never really thought about this before
  • Are you aware of anyone else who has seemingly believed that they were empathic when it is obvious that they are not?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I know of at least one person who is often this way

What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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4 Comments

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    • Helping people is a good thing, but it needs to be a private thing, too. Still, statements about groups and labels used to describe those groups are usually wrong and off-base. It is a means of dividing people rather than uniting them. The media and politicians use this ploy frequently, though not all of them do.

    • Being empathic is a great goal and quite worthy of people striving toward. The problem happens when people convince themselves that they are actual empathic and know what others think and feel when they’ve never experienced the same things.

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