Potentials and limitations of the education for compassion


  • Ivana Zagorac



The first part of the paper deals with the concepts of compassion and empathy. It also delivers a short analysis of the popular calls for education for compassion and the development of the culture of empathy. The second part of the paper focuses on education for compassion. The contributions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau provided a starting point in the analysis of potentials and limitations of such education. The interrelatedness between education for compassion and social aspects of a particular society proved to be especially important: on the one side, education that is oriented towards compassion has the potential of improving social and moral relations in a particular society, while on the other side, such education is vulnerable to the corruption of the very society it intends to improve. In the last part of the paper, and following David Hume’s insights on the relation between compassion and justice, we point to a possibly problematic aspect of such relation. Namely, while education for compassion might serve a noble purpose in regenerating the society as a whole, at the same time, it might provide a reason for the passivity of the institutions that should protect the vulnerable. In other words, society’s mechanisms might use a growing personal responsibility towards the vulnerable as an alibi for their own incompetence. The conclusion is that education for compassion has to be nurtured within the society; however, its strength and potentials must not be uncritically idealized.

Keywords: compassion, empathy, education, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, David Hume.