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Allan Young – The Neuroscience and Epistemology of Empathic Cruelty

November 11, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Le réseau neuroéthique de Montréal

The Montréal Neuroethics Network



Allan Young, PhD (McGill University, Montreal, Canada)

Thursday, November 21st, 12:00pm – 1:00pm

Jeudi le 21 novembre, 12:00 – 13:00


The Neuroscience and Epistemology of Empathic Cruelty


Until recently, interest in cognitive and emotional empathy was concentrated in cognitive science, social psychology, and literary studies. With the advent of functional neuroimaging and the discovery of a putative human mirror neuron system, interest in empathy has broadened and intensified, notably with regard to the operation of human ‘mind-reading’ and moral sensibilities, and the evolution of the social brain. It is commonly assumed that empathy is morally valenced: feeling or anticipating someone else’s pain disposes an observer to behave in a morally positive way toward the sufferer. If so, the notion of ‘empathic cruelty’ would be an oxymoron, and this is the theme of Simon Baron-Cohen’s popular book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty. In my talk, I will argue that recent neuroscience research suggests that the conventional view, opposing empathy to cruelty, is mistaken. Further, the prevailing theory of the evolution of the social brain leads one to a similar conclusion. I will conclude my talk with cursory comments regarding the relevance of this controversy for neuroethics.



Room/Salle André-Barbeau, Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM)

110 Avenue des Pins Ouest


Pease see attached poster for details.

Veuillez consulter les affiches ci-jointes pour de plus amples renseignements.


All are welcome but please note that there is a required reading for this seminar and limited spaces. Please RSVP by November 20th  at veljko.dubljevic@ircm.qc.ca to receive the readings.

Tous sont les bienvenus mais veuillez noter qu’il y a des lectures obligatoires pour ce séminaire ainsi qu’un nombre de places limité. SVP réservez d’ici le 20 novembre auprès veljko.dubljevic@ircm.qc.ca afin de vous inscrire et de recevoir les articles à lire.

The Montreal Neuroethics Network promotes neuroethics training, education and dialogue by exposing various audiences to neuroethics issues; fostering collaboration and mutual learning; and ensure Montreal’s leadership in addressing ethical and social issues in neuroscience and healthcare delivery through inter-institutional collaborations.

For additional information, please contact Dr. Eric Racine at: Neuroethics Research Unit
Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
Tel: +1 514 987-5723

Le Réseau neuroéthique de Montréal promeut la formation, l’éducation et le dialogue neuroéthiques en exposant divers publics aux enjeux neuroéthiques; en facilitant les collaborations et les apprentissages mutuels afin de développer le leadership à Montréal pour aborder les questions éthiques et sociales associées aux neurosciences et aux soins de santé dans un contexte de collaboration interinstitutionnelle.

Pour de plus amples renseignements, veuillez communiquer avec Éric Racine

Unité de recherche en neuroéthique

Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal
Tél. : +1 514 987-5723
Courriel :

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