When President Obama tells us he wants a compassionate Supreme Court justice with “empathy” for people’s struggles, he’s wandered into arguments within psychology of what we mean by the term.
There are at least three varieties of empathy, each with very different implications for spotting the right candidate. The first, cognitive empathy, means that we can understand how the other person thinks; we see his point of view. This makes for good debaters, sales people and negotiators. On the other hand, people who have strengths in cognitive empathy alone can lack compassion – they get how you see it, but don’t care about you.»