George Lakoff: “EMAPTHY is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the CAPACITY to put oneself in the shoes of others – not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one’s countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially THOSE who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. Empathy is the capacity to care, to feel what others feel, to understand what others are facing and what their lives are like. Empathy EXTENDSwell beyond feeling to understanding, and it extends beyond individuals to groups, communities, peoples, even species. Empathy is at the heart of REAL rationality, because it goes to the heart of our values, which are the basis of our sense of justice.
Progressives CARE about others as well as themselves. They have a moral obligation to act on their empathy – a social responsibility in addition to personal responsibility, a responsibility to make the world better by making themselves better. This leads to a view of a government that cares about its citizens and has a moral obligation to protect and empower them. Protection includes worker, consumer, and environmental protection as well as safety nets and health care. Empowerment includes what is in the president’s stimulus plan: infrastructure, education, communication, energy, the availability of credit from banks, a stock market that works. No one can earn anything at all in this country without protection and empowerment by the government. All progressive legislation is made on this basis….In describing his ideal Supreme Court justice, President Obama cited empathy as a MAJOR desideratum. Why? Because that is what our democracy is about. A justice has to take empathy into account because his or her decisions will affect the lives of others. Before making a decision you have toPUT yourself in the shoes of those who your decision will affect. Similarly, in judging causation, fairness requires that SOCIAL causes as well as individual causes be taken into account. Empathy forces you to notice what is crucial in so many Supreme Court cases: systemic and social causes and whom a decision can harm. As such, empathy correctly understood is crucial to judgment. A judge WITHOUT empathy is a judge UNFIT for a democracy.
President Obama has described Justice Sotomayor in empathetic terms – a life story that would lead her to UNDERSTAND people who live through oppression and deprivation and what it does to them. In other words, a life story that would allow her to APPRECIAYE the consequences of judicial decisions and the causal effects of living in an unequal society.
Empathy in this sense is a THREAT to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of “justice.” It is no surprise that empathy would be a MAJOR conservative target in the Sotomayor evaluation.”