Environmental Philosophy

Volume 5, Issue 1, Spring 2008

Jessica Pierce
Pages 75-96

Mice in the Sink
On the Expression of Empathy In Animals

Empathy refers to a whole class or “cluster” of behaviors based in emotional linkage between individuals. The capacity for empathy is not unique to humans, but has evolved in a range of mammals that live in complex social groups. There is good evidence for empathy in primates, pachyderms, cetaceans, social carnivores, and rodents. Because empathy is grounded in the same neurological architecture as other prosocial behaviors such as trust, reciprocity, cooperation, and fairness, it seems likely that a whole suite of interlinked moral behaviors have coevolved in social mammals. This essay explores the concept of empathy, reviews the scientific evidence for empathy in several species of social mammals, and suggests why empathy is adaptive. The paper concludes with a discussion of what, if anything, the discovery of empathy in other animals suggests for how we treat them and how we think about our own morality.