Empathy refers to an individual’s ability to place oneself into another person’s situation, perceive it, vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of the person without having them communicated explicitly, while sympathy refers to the act of acknowledging another person’s emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance as psychological remedies. In a nutshell, it is simply a feeling of care and understanding for others. A vulnerable person, owing to inward weaknesses, cannot blame his/her plight on the people, but through empathy, such problems can be solved by the external parties. The question of whether empathy is necessary for moral conduct will definitely yield a positive consent, and therefore, people should cultivate empathy based on morality since morality is a superset of empathy. It would be imprudent to alienate empathy in the process of moral development, and therefore, it is important to enshrine an empathy-based morality for the good of the weak in the society.

Empathy emanates from an individual, without being forced or coerced. It would be difficult to improve empathy owing to the absence of homogeneity among most of the members of the society. It is important to note that empathy and charity are both considered as acts that are involuntarily developed within a person, through an inherent process that is uncontrollable. If to initiate a gradual process of social orientation to instill the empathic values, then morality will improve, just like the virtuousness of Confucianism and Taoism conferred the desired values upon the Chinese generations.

Definition and History of Morality

Morality is the ability to distinguish between the right and wrong. It also encompasses dealing with both behavior and motives. Moreover, it is equally the determination of what should be done and what should not be done. Historically, morality is found as an inherent aspect in the oriental philosophy. Morality is vital for human existence as long as the society achieves a quorum on what should be termed as moral.

The history of morality can be traced to the oriental philosophers. The first proponent of morality, although indirectly, was Lao Tzu, a 6th-century B.C.E moral teacher. He suggested and instituted the concept of Taoism. Lao Tzu’s existence is somewhat considered mythical, regardless of the fact that the teachings attributed to him have been used for very many centuries and are still practiced today. Lao Tzu’s propositions were in regard to reality and interaction with nature.

Philosophical Arguments and Debates in Confucianism, Taoism, and Legalism

The Chinese philosophy has undergone significant transformations over the time under three important concepts of Taoism, Confucianism, and Legalism. Confucianism stresses on humanistic virtues and regards the secular acts as sacred. It focuses on the practical order of the society and respect of the gods by people. Confucianism is more inclined to the religious realms and it strictly stresses on the family. According to the principles of Confucius, the society ought to maintain virtues and ethics. In that case, such practices as the li, yi, and the zhi are emphasized, but they mould none into ren. Confucianism holds one in contempt for failing,  either passively or actively, to observe and uphold the cardinal values of ren and yi. Secondly, legalism portrays a pragmatic political philosophy, in which majorly the rule of law is upheld. It was deemed an ethical means of organizing the society.

Han Fei synthesized the earlier concepts on legalism in three principles. The first one is a law principle, which states that the law must be made public. The second principle is a tactic or art principle, which suggests a bureaucratic administration which serves to enforce the law and performs the task of running the state. This means that the ruler must employ special techniques to ensure that the system works and performs its function. The third is the principle of legitimacy, a power of Charisma, which points to the position of the ruler and the powers attached. It advises the ruler to observe emptiness in order to allow the natural order of things to rule.

Besides, there is the concept of Taoism, which, according to Lao Tzu, means an ethical and religious tradition of the Chinese people, which puts emphasis on living in harmony. It reflects the source and the force behind everything that exists. It has been an ancient force that originated from the experiences with the Tao, responsible for the transformation of the Chinese experience of the ultimate. The subsequent proponents of Taoism concerned themselves with the universe, as opposed to Confucianism that set itself as distinguished in conferring upon the moral behavior of society. Taoism is defined in terms of religiosity, a person’s relationship with the non-theoretical aspect of the society, and the process to achieve the non-epistemic status.

Why People should be Moral

Empathy is an essential virtue that the human beings need in the society in order to coexist harmoniously. Basically, empathy is perceived as an experience that comes with sharing other people’s pain or even joy. Actually, it emits emotions that compel an individual to relate well with another’s pain and to lend a helping hand. Morality is a major issue in the society because people are able to differentiate between right and wrong.  Empathy is actually necessary for morality because it enables people to choose to do right to others. When an individual has empathy for other people, his/her motives or behavior are right to them too. Therefore, empathy is vital because it actually enhances morality.

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Empathy and Moral Development

Moral development is a gradual process, starting in the infancy, of understanding and developing a sense of morality. Empathy is necessary for moral development because people, especially children, learn how to treat others in the right manner, thus embracing morality. Basically, empathy emits other humanistic emotions such as compassion and sympathy. When children grow and develop experiencing empathy, they are able to show it to others, thus cultivating moral development. Moral development, actually, encompasses growth of attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs. Although empathy is intuitive, it is also a skill that can be worked on and developed. Therefore, empathy can be viewed as a skill that also boosts moral development because it enables people to release feelings, motives, attitudes, and behaviors that are right and beneficial to themselves, others, and the society in large.

Empathy and Moral Conduct

Empathy influences people’s motives and behaviors regarding other people. Therefore, it would be right to state that it is also necessary for moral conduct. Basically, moral conduct enhances a harmonious existence among people in the society. It is obvious that peaceful co-existence among human beings comes as a result of treating one another in a right and human manner. When people are able to understand other people’s plight and put themselves in their shoes, they are able to treat them right. Empathy makes people embrace the right motives and behaviors, thus improving their moral conduct. It would, actually, be right to adopt an empathy-based morality.

Cultivating an Empathy-Based Morality

Commonly, morality revolves around the motives and behaviors of people. It is clear that empathy highly influences people to embrace the right behavior and motives towards other people. Therefore, with an empathy-based morality, people would have the right morals, since their motives and behaviors regarding others would be considerate. Empathy is actually considered intuitive, but it is also acquired through learning. It is a skill that can be instilled and developed intellectually. Moreover, people also liken it to a religious form of relation, developed from one person to another. Therefore, if empathy can be acquired intellectually, it can actually be improved, especially through practice.

David Hume’s Sympathy and Empathy Debate

Hume’s theory, considered from a functional perspective, suggests that sympathy should not be mistaken as a particular effect, for instance, compassion, but it is the transformation of an idea into an impression through imagination. When people sympathize in the sentiments and passions of their fellow human beings, these movements are first incorporated in the minds and thereafter perceived as belonging to another individual. In addition, the ideas encompassed in the affections are converted into the impressions which they represent, and eventually, the passions arise to conform to the images that people build about them. When anger is expressed by a person and the impression is taken in by another as an emotion, it is then converted into the same sentiment within an individual who equally expressed displeasure. Humans are related, and they connect both physically and biologically with action at a distance. The spirit of benevolence is the basis of morality in Hume’s view of empathy and sympathy.

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According to Agosta, humans resonate together at the level of biology, which is neither full-blown, complete sympathy, nor empathy. The challenge is that Hume’s initial narrow definition of sympathy, as a psychological mechanism, is both expanded and restricted as the expansive sympathy. Hume’s narrow definition of sympathy omits a concern for the others, which is the main point of sympathy’s contribution to the foundation of morality. Hume’s narrowing of the benevolences overlooked extensive sympathy resulting in altruism. In empathy, understanding the other individual, which also involves making commitments, illustrates empathic understanding in mankind.

The complex multidimensional approach to empathy clarifies many differences in emphasis and redirects the concept into the true wholeness.

Drowning a Child Theory in Mencius and its Connection with Empathy

Mencius gave the analogy of a drowning child, a theory in which he asserts, “for the child falling into a well, one would express panic and fear upon seeing the child in danger.” This sane act of kindness is inherent in everyone, regardless of how evil that individual has become over time. Mencius states that there are four parts of the human heart that are cultivated and developed by the society, which yields four virtues. This is excellent for debate. Mencius said. “All men have a mind which cannot bear to see the sufferings of others.” It means that men have four principles, and if they cannot develop them, they play a thief with themselves. In my opinion, an act of empathy is expressed in this situation. This means that upon seeing the child, a man will, without exception, experience a feeling of alarm and distress, and not just to gain approval or praises. This is a result of one’s inherent empathic nature, and no man of a rational mind enjoys seeing others fall.

Therefore, a child reflects the status of the man with no destruction to the surrounding, very helpless and naïve. It would be imprudent to let the young one go. It is also natural for the man to lend a helping hand to another individual with whom they are at peace, for instance, an innocent child and an adult. Therefore, in this case, the child may be likened to any individual in need and with whom a person enjoys a good and peaceful mutual personal relationship.


People should embrace the idea of doing what is right to others more often. When people are treated well by their fellow citizens, they tend to relate well to them. Therefore, empathy is actually vital to the morality of a society. This is because people will always be inclined to do the right thing. Good deeds within a society generally promote a high level of morality.

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