Proof that empathy, although essential, is inadequate for love

One can empathize with another’s desire for self-destruction.

(Desiring another’s well-being seems to be the peak of love. Empathy facilitates but doesn’t guarantee it.)

Treating empathy as a chief virtue breaks down quickly. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has a long list of feelings and actions they don’t think should be empathized with (rape, racism, murder). We make qualifications:

Empathize with the temptation to sin, not with sin.

Empathize with suffering, not the sinful cause of (some) suffering.

This is why empathy doesn’t work as a “naked” or chief virtue. It only works in concert with other virtues. It belongs on love’s tool belt.


“Empathy has become a sort of ‘catch-all’ for desirable personal qualities…”

“Participants liked and respected the empathizer, but only when the character receiving empathy was liked as well…”

“Our findings suggest that people see empathy as a social signal. Whom you choose to empathize with shows whom you care about and what you stand for.” (source)

Better to use the robust constellation of particular Biblical virtues and vices than to use the reductionist, catch-all virtue-euphemisms of the spirit of the age.

Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

2 Peter 1:5-7: “Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”