Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen sets out to understand human cruelty in this thought-provoking argumentThe word "empathy" has been in use for little more than 100 years – it was coined in 1909, a translation of a German psychologist's neologism whose literal meaning is "feeling into" – but the concept is an ancient one. A capacity to feel what others feel, to delight and suffer with them, has been long associated with higher modes of consciousness ("The man who can see all creatures in himself, himself in all creatures," declares the millenniums-old Isha Upanishad, "knows no fear").Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University, has a particular interest in the nature and functioning of empathy. He has written two previous books on the subject, Mindblindness and The Essential Difference (in which he put forward the intriguing theory that autism is an extreme form of the less emotionally literate "male" brain). In...
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