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Kadish Workshop in Law, Philosophy, and Political Theory: Olivia Bailey, UC Berkeley

Friday, October 6, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm

Olivia Bailey is an assistant professor of philosophy at UC Berkeley. She works on empathy, evaluative perception, interpersonal understanding, and moral development. Her research in these areas draws on inspiration from Scottish Enlightenment thought.

Paper Abstract:

Sophie de Grouchy’s Letters on Sympathy is a collection of eight epistolary essays devoted to analysing and celebrating ‘the disposition we have to feel in a way similar to others’ (LS: 59).The essays appeared in print in 1798 as an appendix to Grouchy’s celebrated French translation of Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and this fact about their publication invites questions about the relationship between the Letters and the more famous text with which they were literally bound. Some scholars read the Letters as a friendly if rather haphazard effort to extend Smith’s core ideas about sympathy’s origins and import. I disagree. Grouchy’s disagreements with Smith are more serious and systematic than that. Here, I show how Grouchy’s departures from Smith at the level of developmental psychology lead her to some very different conclusions about the ills of economic inequality. On Grouchy’s account, unlike Smith’s, economic inequality universally strangles sympathy, and thereby threatens the happiness of both the rich and the poor. Smith does suggest that economic inequality naturally fuels a morally troubling form of sympathetic bias. However, Smith’s own theoretical commitments make it hard for him to coherently condemn either major economic inequality or the sympathetic bias it supposedly fuels. By contrast, Grouchy can readily characterize serious economic inequality and its sympathetic repercussions as conditions that we all have prudential and moral reasons to oppose.

About the Workshop:

This course is a workshop for discussing works in progress in moral, political, and legal theory. The workshop creates a space for students to engage directly with philosophers, political theorists, and legal scholars working on normative questions toward the goal of fostering critical thinking about concepts of value and developing analytical thinking and writing skills. Another aim is to bring together people from different disciplines and perspectives who have strong normative interests or who speak to issues philosophers and theorists should know something about.

The theme for the Fall 2023 workshop is “Current Work on the History of Political, Legal, and Moral Philosophy.”


141 Law Building


Kadish Center for Morality, Law & Public Affairs

Events are wheelchair accessible. For disability-related accommodations, contact the organizer of the event. Advance notice is kindly requested.

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