In this world of growing numbers and shrinking resources, self-interest is a powerful and dangerous threat to the common good. It can lead us to grab for ourselves even when giving rather than grabbing—if others give as well—would bring more benefit to all, including ourselves. But social dilemmas are often more complex than a conflict between what is best for me and what is best for all. Contrary to the value assumption of the theory of rational choice—the assumption that I always want what is best for me—I may also be pulled by what is best for one or more specific individuals for whom I care. Empathy-induced altruism can be a friend of the common good, but it can also be a foe. If I can be led to care about the welfare of all members of a group, or if increasing the welfare of those for whom I especially care increases the common good as an unintended consequence, empathy-induced altruism is a friend. If neither of these conditions pertains, it is likely to be a foe. Indeed, under certain nontrivial circumstances, such as when one’s behavior is public, empathy-induced altruism can pose a more powerful threat to the common good than self-interest. It can lead me to feel justified focusing my concern on those for whom I especially care—a needing friend—to the detriment of the bleeding crowd.

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