Sherman, Nancy, and . Empathy, Respect, and Humanitarian Intervention

1998, Ethics and International Affairs 12(1): 103–119.

Abstract: This essay examines the moral attitudes that underlie commitments to humanitarian intervention. Specifically, the essay seeks to explain how respect and empathy together create the ethical imperative for humanitarian intervention. Traditionally excluded from the formal discourse on humanitarian intervention, empathy is presented as an integral component of making the “ought” of humanitarian intervention psychologically feasible.

The essay presents a slightly revised definition of empathy, in which empathy is the cognitive ability to place oneself in the world of another, imagining all of the realities, feelings, and circumstances of that person in the context of their world. This differs from the notion that feelings of empathy are limited to those with whom one shares a close relationship. The essay contends that the ability to identify with others is necessary in order to mobilize the feelings of respect for others into acts of humanitarian intervention.

Comment: Sherman presents a slightly revised definition of empathy, in which empathy is the cognitive ability to place oneself in the world of another, imagining all of the realities, feelings, and circumstances of that person in the context of their world. Useful article to compliment discussions on the humanitarian role in war.