Is empathy the proper basis for morality?

by Matt Slick

I was in an atheist controlled voice chat room listening to their dialogue about why God doesn't exist, typical stuff. However, one particular atheist said that morality should be based on empathy. I then chimed in and asked why morality "ought" to be based on empathy. I asked because he was making an absolute moral statement, that morals ought to be based on empathy. Where did he get this? Unfortunately, he ignored my question even after I asked it several times. But that did not stop me. I wanted to know if his opinion was the basis for morality in the world. Again, no answer. I continued to ask questions along the lines of universal moral truths.  I asked if he was asserting a universal moral truth by asserting that all people ought to base their morality on empathy.  Again, no response. But, many other atheists jumped in with some pretty standard insults and red herrings. Nevertheless, I kept focusing and finally got a response.  He said that empathy should be the basis for morality because that way we will be nicer to people.  Ah, so being nice is the basis of morality...and why is that I asked?  No answer. And that was the end of his responses.  So, I said that I wasn't finding any competent, intellectual responses in the room to defend the initial assertion.  That is when I was kicked out of the chat room.  Hmm, maybe I wasn't empathetic or nice enough.  Anyway, they did not like me putting pressure on them by asking such questions, questions like these...

  1. If morality is based on empathy then doesn't that mean that one's subjective experience is the basis for ethical behavior?
  2. But how is subjective experience the basis of moral behavior if my experience differs from yours?
  3. Is there a universal standard of what is proper empathy and what is not?
  4. If not, then how do you know empathy is the right standard?
  5. Is it a collective empathy? A Majority opinion on what is good empathy?
  6. What if what one person says is proper empathy does not agree with another person? Then what?

Anyway, as you can see there different kinds of questions that can be asked but the not so easy to answer, especially from an atheistic perspective.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.