front cover of Being Me Being You
Being Me Being You
Adam Smith and Empathy
Samuel Fleischacker
University of Chicago Press, 2019
Modern notions of empathy often celebrate its ability to bridge divides, to unite humankind. But how do we square this with the popular view that we can never truly comprehend the experience of being someone else? In this book, Samuel Fleischacker delves into the work of Adam Smith to draw out an understanding of empathy that respects both personal difference and shared humanity.

After laying out a range of meanings for the concept of empathy, Fleischacker proposes that what Smith called “sympathy” is very much what we today consider empathy. Smith’s version has remarkable value, as his empathy calls for entering into the perspective of another—a uniquely human feat that connects people while still allowing them to define their own distinctive standpoints. After discussing Smith’s views in relation to more recent empirical and philosophical studies, Fleischacker shows how turning back to Smith promises to enrich, clarify, and advance our current debates about the meaning and uses of empathy.

front cover of A Short History of Distributive Justice
A Short History of Distributive Justice
Samuel Fleischacker
Harvard University Press, 2005

Distributive justice in its modern sense calls on the state to guarantee that everyone is supplied with a certain level of material means. Samuel Fleischacker argues that guaranteeing aid to the poor is a modern idea, developed only in the last two centuries.

Earlier notions of justice, including Aristotle’s, were concerned with the distribution of political office, not of property. It was only in the eighteenth century, in the work of philosophers such as Adam Smith and Immanuel Kant, that justice began to be applied to the problem of poverty. To attribute a longer pedigree to distributive justice is to fail to distinguish between justice and charity.

Fleischacker explains how confusing these principles has created misconceptions about the historical development of the welfare state. Socialists, for instance, often claim that modern economics obliterated ancient ideals of equality and social justice. Free-market promoters agree but applaud the apparent triumph of skepticism and social-scientific rigor. Both interpretations overlook the gradual changes in thinking that yielded our current assumption that justice calls for everyone, if possible, to be lifted out of poverty. By examining major writings in ancient, medieval, and modern political philosophy, Fleischacker shows how we arrived at the contemporary meaning of distributive justice.


Send via email Share on Facebook Share on Twitter