In my Psychopath as Übermensch post I suggested that for the metaphysical naturalist who takes his own truth claims seriously, becoming a psychopath (or at least acting like one) is an obvious – even an inevitable – choice. The clear-eyed metaphysical naturalist understands “empathy to be nothing but weak-kneed sentimentality.”
I got a little pushback.
goodusername wrote simply “why,” to which I responded:
I would think the answer to that question is obvious. For our clear-eyed, unsentimental Übermensch, “empathy” is an arbitrary barrier to the unfettered assertion of his will to power. You might as well ask why the lion does not feel empathy for the gazelle.
The Übermensch says to himself, “I want X. Obtaining X causes pain to my fellow man. I don’t care. Just as the lion is willing to kill the gazelle to satisfy his desire to eat, I am willing to cause pain to my fellow man if that is necessary to get what I want.”
If you say to the Übermensch, “you should have empathy for your fellow man,” he will throw your own question back in your face. “Why?”
How would you answer him GSU?
To his credit, GSU took a stab at answering my question:
Maybe I’m missing something from not having done much study of Nietzsche (been many years since I’ve read “Zarathustra”), but it seems odd to me to suppress empathy – a primary source of our wants and desires – in order to achieve… our wants and desires. The reasoning doesn’t seem obvious to me at all.
As for why a lion doesn’t feel empathy for the gazelle, well, I’m pretty sure lions don’t feel much empathy period. I think it’s beyond their ability. You might as well ask why lions haven’t invented calculus, written a symphony, or traveled to the moon.
It also seems odd to me to refer to someone as a “super-man” who has lost one of the key characteristics that differentiates us from other animals. Sounds more like an “under-man”.
This is just confused. GSU is unable or unwilling to accept that the metaphysical naturalist must believe that empathy is nothing but a “feeling,” and like other feelings it can be suppressed in the service of other ends.
Here’s a simple example. Joe is a young college student. We can imagine him having this conversation with himself: I have new car fever; I really want that shiny red convertible. Wait a minute. If I spend my money on that car I will have to drop out of school and that will really limit my long term earning potential. But if I suppress my desire for the car now, in the long run I will be able to buy many cars from my increased income. I will suppress this feeling.
Joe understands that the decision whether to suppress his gut feeling in the service of other ends is a cost-benefit analysis. The calculating part of our brain suppresses the feeling part of our brain all the time.
Most of us do not make this calculation when it comes to ethical decisions, including the decision whether to hurt another human for our selfish gain. But for the metaphysical naturalist empathy is just another gut feeling that can be suppressed – or not – based on a “rational” cost-benefit analysis.
Can someone explain to me why that last sentence is not true – even obvious?