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Empathy in Science, Society, and Stories

Course Instructors
Stacy Hartman: Graduate student, German Studies, Stanford
Anne Newman: Associate Director, Center for Ethics, Stanford

Course Goals
• Reflect upon what empathy means in different contexts
• Sharpen your ability to make and evaluate arguments
• Strengthen your ability to write clearly
• Read and respond to different types of writing (research and stories)

All reading materials will be provided by the instructors. Readings should be done
BEFORE we discuss them in class, so you should read assignments before the dates
listed below.

Class Schedule

Empathy in Science

Class 1, September 29: What is empathy?
“Six Habits of Highly Empathic People,” by Roman Krznaric, Greater Good Science
Center

Class 2, October 6: Is empathy always a force for good in the world?
“Against Empathy,” by Paul Bloom, Boston Review (Stacy will figure out excerpts)


Empathy in Society

Class 3, October 13: What is the role of empathy in politics and policy debates?
“Saving a Child,” by Peter Singer from his book, The Life You Can Save

Class 4, October 20: How does our regular exposure to suffering make it hard to
empathize, and how can we change that?
“Empathy Fatigue and What the Press Can Do About It,” Jamil Zaki, Huffington Post

FIRST WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE IN CLASS



Empathy in Stories

Class 5, October 27: How do stories influence our ability to empathize?
The Parable of the Good Samaritan

“Your Brain on Fiction,” by Annie Murphy Paul, The New York Times

Class 6, November 3: How can stories prompt us to question how empathic we really
are?
“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Class 7, November 10: How do stories make us aware of the limits of empathy?
selections from The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka [TBD by Stacy]


Empathy in Personal Decisions

Class 8, November 17: What role does empathy play in personal decisions?
“The Kindest Cut,” by Larissa MacFarquhar, The New Yorker

SECOND WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE IN CLASS

Class 9, November 24: How might empathy at times complicate someone’s ability to act
morally?
Selection from My Own Country by Abraham Verghese

December 1 – NO CLASS

Class 10, December 8: When individuals decide to act with empathy, how can it decrease
inequality in the world?

No reading before class; watch in class Prudence Carter’s TEDx Stanford talk

FINAL WRITING ASSIGNMENT DUE IN CLASS