Empathy is one-to-one, since we only imagine ourselves in the mind of one other person at a time. Even when I empathise with ‘the people’ here – for example when I hear about the difficulties all the women face finding clean water – I am really imagining what it is like to be just one woman. I cannot imagine myself to be more than one person at a time, and neither can you.
So if I’m part of a group of four trying to decide what is right, I need to empathise with each of the other three in turn. For each, I and they will come to an agreement – and therefore define a norm of what is right – by balancing our interests: if my time and effort is worth more to one of them than it is to me, then I will help them, and vice versa. But empathising one-to-one also sets boundaries: it prevents me from becoming a slave, since the impact of this on my interests will exceed any benefit it could bring any single one of them, even if the total benefit to several of them would be larger.
Why is it necessary for empathy to be !:1 ? *
It is possible to imagine a whole situation - the picture being presented.
Let's say that the author was part of a tribal 'justice' committee of 15, trying to decide what is right. There is no need at all for him to empathise with each member in turn.
I have absolutely no idea where this 'time and effort' balance comes into it...when deciding about justice.
This is not the same as the author deciding for himself who deserves his help, or not.
Edit to add:
Furthermore, empathising with people in the past as well as the future means justice isn’t just about either deterrents or blindly applying a code. It means punishments are issued which fit both the crime and the criminal. That chimes well with my instincts, and hopefully with yours, too
* Ah, OK, so not just a 1:1 imagining after all.
Em, so...are all our empathies in tune, then ?