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Rifkin on Morality, Part 3

February 5, 2012

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Excerpted from The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis, by Jeremy Rifkin:

“Empathic consciousness overcomes the is/ought gap.  Empathic behavior is embodied, is filled with a sense of awe, and relies on both feelings and reason.  Equally important, empathic consciousness is both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.  There is no dividing line between what one is and what one ought to be.  They are one and the same.  When one identifies with another’s struggle as if it were one’s own and celebrates their life by comforting and supporting their quest, one is living authentically and fully.  One’s self is enlarged and expanded and spills over into broader, more inclusive communities of compassionate engagement.  The process of  being empathic extends the moral domain.

Anyone who’s ever experienced empathy knows that it cannot be commanded into being felt or be pursued because it’s one’s moral duty and, therefore, a universal obligation.  Empathy is felt and reasoned simultaneously.  It is a quantum experience.

Empathic consciousness, then, does not rest on an externally imposed moral code but rather on a nurturing milieu.  One develops a moral sensitivity to the extent one is embedded, from infancy, in a nurturing parental, familial, and neighborhood environment.  Society can foster that environment by providing the appropriate social and public context.  While primitive empathic potential is wired into the brain chemistry of some mammals, and especially the primates, its mature expression in humans requires learning and practice and a conducive environment.  Moral codes, embedded in laws and social policies, are helpful as learning guides and standards.  But the point is that one isn’t authentically good because he or she is compelled to be so, with the threat of punishment hanging over them or a reward waiting for them, but, rather because it’s in one’s nature to empathize.  We don’t internalize morally appropriate behavior by fiat or promises, but externalize it by feelings of identification with the plight of others.  To be truly human is to be universally empathic and, therefore, morally appropriate in one’s embodied experience.”

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  1. Rifkin on Morality, Part 2 « The Buddha's Hotdog

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